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  • Writer's pictureJames Palmer

Reflections on 2023 and looking forward to 2024

James Palmer, Chair, Eastern Powerhouse

Dear members, friends, and supporters of the Eastern Powerhouse,

Looking back over the past year, I am pleased with the progress the Eastern Powerhouse has made. It’s been 21 months since we launched, and that time has been spent building the organisation and growing our influence. With any new membership group such as ours, there will always be the initial scepticism from some quarters and perhaps nervous glances from others. However, the Eastern Powerhouse has maintained a principled position, our aim is to deliver sustainable growth for the east of England. We do not get into political arguments, nor do we spend our time criticising government and local authorities. The Eastern Powerhouse presents solutions and offers advice to leaders, always asking for investment into our economy; not handouts.

Perhaps our greatest success this year was the campaign we led to gain funding for Ely North and Haughley railway junctions. The bottleneck at Ely restricts train journeys for passengers from almost every part of the region and severely limits freight capacity. This is a problem that should have been solved many years ago and whilst funding for the upgrade was announced by Secretary of State for Transport Mark Harper less than a month after meeting us in Westminster, we will have to be vigilant and make sure the scheme survives a possible change of government.

We have spent a considerable amount of time cultivating relationships with MPs across the region. It can be difficult for constituents to understand why an MP in Suffolk is publicly supporting a project in Cambridgeshire or vice versa but the Powerhouse aims to galvanise support from MPs to grow the economy for the benefit of the whole region and this makes us unique in the east. We have found that there are virtually no policies that are bespoke for our region and have begun lobbying to change that. Specific policies for the east in life sciences and energy could be transformational, as could a regional spatial strategy and an independent economic review.

Making the case for a regional strategy to a centralised government is not easy and there are many in London who are opposed to this idea. But all our research points to the success of regional policies in similar countries elsewhere in the world, and the economic case for a bespoke approach is strong. We will, therefore, continue to promote our region and push for the regional policies we know can work.

In September the Eastern Powerhouse was delighted to appoint as our new Executive Director Steven Lynch, who came to us with a vast amount of experience after leading the British Chamber of Commerce in China for 12 years. Steven has added significantly to the team and is determined to help grow our international reach over the coming year. With new members joining regularly, including Anglian Water, Aviva, Anglian Components, and East Cambridgeshire District Council, the Eastern Powerhouse has moved from a start-up phase to one of delivery. Our members rightly challenge us to deliver on their behalf and it is a privilege to work on behalf of so many vibrant businesses and their leaders. 2024 promises to be an election year but the Eastern Powerhouse is politically colourblind and will work with whoever is elected to run the country.

Our steadfast belief in the strength of the east and the potential of our region cannot be shaken, and we will continue to stand up for the people and businesses of this wonderful part of the world.

I would like to wish to all of you a Happy Christmas and have a fantastic holiday. We look forward to hitting the ground running in 2024. We have very ambitious plans, and we will be celebrating more Powerhouse successes with you.

All the best,

James Palmer


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