* indicates required

County must develop its competitive edge

With the expansion plans for the Milton Keynes South Midlands sub-region – of which Bedfordshire was a significant part – jobs growth was at the top of the agenda, he said. Part of the solution was to work in partnership with neighbouring areas such as Milton Keynes, Northamptonshire and Cambridgeshire.

“Comparative economic performance data demands that our sub-region must progress at a faster pace than hitherto,” Mr Lacy (pictured) added.

The county had to raise both its profile and its image. “We need a clear competitive edge,” Mr Lacy said. “I suggest we need to ensure that any apparent lack of ambition among our people is reversed and that there is a need to create more vibrancy within our community.”

A MORI survey had revealed that even Bedfordshire business leaders rated the county as the least impressive in the East of England. Mr Lacy added that some in the county had a mindset rooted in the past that was now holding Bedfordshire back.

Bedfordshire’s economic performance was only 50 per cent of that of its neighbours, Mr Lacy said. The economy of Milton Keynes was growing three times as quickly. He told the meeting: “We need to tackle in a more dynamic way our sub-region’s historic and consistent economic under-performance.”

Mr Lacy called for a clearer strategy on inward investment and said that Bedfordshire was well placed to capitalise on the economic boom in India because of its strong community ties to the sub-continent.

As well as focusing on the county’s traditional economic strengths, there were emerging opportunities, particularly in tourism. Venues such as Woburn, Whipsnade and the RSPB at Sandy already attracted thousands of tourists, as did watersports at the former clay pits between Bedford and the M1. Business tourism was flourishing, largely through London Luton Airport.

The county was seen as a “hot new location” for the film industry. The producers of Batman Begins had constructed a replica Gotham City in one of the former airship hangars at Cardington and part of the new James Bond film Casino Royale was shot at Millbrook proving ground.

“Surely there must be considerable as-yet unexploited potential for our sub-region, given some of our natural assets and attractions,” Mr Lacy said.

He echoed British Chambers of Commerce director general David Frost’s comments on skills levels among the workforce. Bedfordshire, as a result, had 12,000 Polish migrants working within its boundaries.

“Businesses here are not happy with the quality and attitude of youngsters leaving our education system,” Mr Lacy added. “The demographic projections relating to our local population would appear to indicate an ever-growing problem of educational under-attainment.”

Poor road infrastructure, a “dreadful” planning system and what Mr Lacy called “petty parochial politics” were also hurdlesto overcome.

“Your Chamber board believes that local authority boundary limitations have hampered the best possible co-ordination and co-operation. It seems this is a hot political potato but we have not flinched from making our views known.”

The Chamber was represented on Renaissance Bedford, the agency charged with delivering the government’s growth plans for the town and has voiced its interest in joining that for Luton, Dunstable and Houghton Regis when it is formed.