Shadow Business Secretary promotes opportunity and partnership in meetings with Hull business leaders

Business leaders ranging from major global employers to emerging entrepreneurs discussed renewables, digital development and the skills needed to drive the regeneration of the UK when they met shadow business secretary Jonathan Reynolds in Hull.

Pictured at Bar 55 in the headquarters of The 55 Group are (from left) Mike Ellis, managing director of 43 Clicks North, Emma Hardy MP, Shadow Business Secretary Jonathan Reynolds and Gerard Toplass, CEO of The 55 Group.

The head of one of East Yorkshire’s leading SMEs said his organisation is eager to see a change of government at the next general election having thrived under previous Labour governments and now feeling let down by empty promises of levelling up.

Gerard Toplass, another key figure as group CEO of The 55 Group, hosted the visit at the headquarters in the Old Town of Hull. He said he was impressed with Mr Reynolds’ commitment to work with businesses to rebuild Britain.

Accompanied by Hull West and Hessle MP Emma Hardy, Mr Reynolds welcomed nearly 20 corporate heavyweights and leaders of business organisations to a lunch and later returned to Bar 55 to meet some of the rising stars of the regional business community.

In between he visited Centres for Digital Innovation (C4DI), set up in Hull’s Fruit Market areas as a group of incubators to help tech companies grow and traditional businesses innovate.

Mr Reynolds said: “I have one of the most interesting jobs in the shadow government, having the chance to visit any business in the country working on Labour’s economic policies.

“It’s been fantastic visiting Hull and you have so much to be proud of here with carbon capture and storage and companies working on technology to measure how people are heating their homes.

“My job is to listen and learn and try to put forward policies that will help. I can’t run people’s businesses for them but hopefully I can influence the business environment in which they work.”

He told the young entrepreneurs: “You are going to live through a time of incredible change and incredible opportunity. You should not be nostalgic for the past but you should seek to want to make the most of the changes. Many of the big economic and social problems we face are the result of not handling change well.

“The deal that younger people in the UK have right now compared to previous generations is a far less attractive one. We need to engage with younger people in the political system and appeal for people of all ages to care about the political system.”

In response to questions from Mike Ellis, managing director of performance marketing agency 43 Clicks North and Ash Wray, managing director of sustainability and energy efficiency consultants C3 Group, Mr Reynolds said support with meeting the costs of net zero is “a pressing issue” which will intensify.

He said: “We get told time and time again by businesses that rather than support for net zero there are things in the way – the planning system or business rates. For smaller businesses it’s about removing the obstacles. There are some things that will require a government subsidy but the first thing is to remove the barriers.”

Mr Ellis said: “You spend so much time building your business and learning about it that it’s rare to get the chance to step back and think about the bigger questions and what the government can do to help. Net zero is something we have to look at so to be able to discuss it with a potential future business secretary is a good opportunity.”

Mr Wray added: “Having like-minded people in the same room fosters more growth. Hull needs innovators and people who do what they say they are going to do, and that will provide undeniable proof of our place at the forefront of innovation in net zero.”

Mr Toplass said: “I was impressed with what Jonny said about how he wants businesses to be working with an incoming Labour government rather than against them. That was very positive and I particularly liked what he said about skills and training, because the future of all sectors will be about having the right talent.

“It was great to see a real mix of younger people who have a real entrepreneurial spirit. When I was younger I always wanted to be around people who shared ideas around business and that’s happening now and flourishing again.”

Ms Hardy said feedback indicated the business audiences were ready to work with a Labour government.

She said: “Jonny was genuinely blown away with C4DI and said he would love to see one in every city in the UK. We also looked at the new opportunities here – when the fishing industry ended there was not enough to replace it but now people are working offshore again with wind turbines and carbon capture.

“It’s a massive opportunity for the region and we can’t let it pass us by. To grasp it business needs certainty and investment but all they are getting is uncertainty and instability.

“Business leaders from the heads of major employers to the young entrepreneurs were really listening to Jonny, engaging with him about positive ideas and proposals and making it clear that they see Labour as a credible partner who they can work with to deliver growth.”