‘We need to work together, across all business communities, to realise the city’s full potential’

Jan 07, 2021

Nicholas Mann, chair of Milton Keynes Business Leaders Partnership.

Milton Keynes is looking to live up to its billing as the city most likely to lead the economic bounce back from the impact of the pandemic. In the first of a new regular column by Milton Keynes Business Leaders Partnership, its chair Nicholas Mann says that collaboration, the strong collective sense of community and  entrepreneurial spirit will be key.

ACCORDING to the Financial Times, if you were planning a town to withstand a pandemic, it might look something like Milton Keynes. This is a great testament to the city, the resilience of businesses and the wider community and the undiminishable entrepreneurial spirit which continues to rule supreme.

Every day, hundreds of autonomous robots meets the needs of Milton Keynes’ citizens. Delivering anything from supermarket supplies to take-away food, these small robots are now a common sight within the city but each one embodies the innovative city we live and work in.

It’s no surprise, therefore, that Milton Keynes is now recognised on an international level as a town of the future, and, according to the recent UK Powerhouse report prepared by the Centre for Economic and Business Research and law firm Irwin Mitchell, expected to lead the country’s economic fightback.

The Starship Enterprises delivery robots are a common sight on the streets of Milton Keynes.

While it’s important to look forward at the dawn of a new year, we should also reflect on the unprecedented events of 2020. Foremost is the thoughts which must go to the casualties of the pandemic; from the residents who lost their lives to the businesses which collapsed, including Adelie Foods in June which cost Milton Keynes 2,000 jobs.

But the city’s collective sense of community, which kicked into high gear at the start of the pandemic and continues to aid the city’s recovery, – is demonstrative of a business community which continues to network and pull together to aid those in need.

Networking and forging cross-business connections is a key component of Milton Keynes Business Leaders Partnership. Our events are the jewel in the crown, a time where we reconnect face to face and listen to quality speakers.

How ironic that the Milton Keynes Business Achievement Awards in March – a pinnacle date in the MKBLP calendar – was the last time the Milton Keynes business community physically came together. While the looming shadow of Covid-19 was above us, little did we realise the full impact of the economic shockwave about to rip through our personal and professional lives.

As the dust settled and business leaders throughout Milton Keynes – whether SMEs or directors within larger organisations both public and private – steadied their ships, we all came together in collaborative support. From offering voluntary support to the wider community to staying connected as businesses, sharing valuable information through MKBLP’s virtual events as everyone navigated their way through the storm.

What ultimately came to light was the realisation that we are all part of the Milton Keynes narrative. And everyone recognises the city’s potential.

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“We are unlikely to become stagnant in whatever becomes the ‘new normal’ as our ability to evolve with change is rooted in our culture.”

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Our status as a distribution hub for online shopping is fuelling the recovery, as is our logistical position strategically placed at the south of the so-called ‘golden triangle’ from which almost 90% of the UK population can be reached within five hours.

And let’s not forget our high level of productivity, which is more than a quarter above the national average outside the capital.

Covid has caused considerable disruption to the commercial property market and as businesses learn to adapt to the new work methods and increased levels of remote working, there will be a natural shift as firms take a step downwards on the property ladder.

With our efficient grid system and amazing green spaces, Milton Keynes is the natural location for overspill from cities that often have higher costs for commercial space.

There is great scope for growth and it’s a case of onwards and upwards, with the full potential of the Oxford-Cambridge Arc due to be realised following the launch of a government-backed spatial framework.

Bookended by the academic and knowledge-centred powerhouses of the two oldest universities in the UK, Milton Keynes is already viewed as an innovative asset and a testbed for Artificial Intelligence which is integral to realising the Arc’s ambition of doubling the area’s GVA to £200 billion per annum by 2050.

The entrepreneurial spirit upon which our city was founded and which continues to underpin our business community will hold us in good stead for the future. We are unlikely to become stagnant in whatever becomes the ‘new normal’ as our ability to evolve with change is rooted in our culture.

However, we must not become complacent. We need to work together across all business communities to realise the city’s full potential – an objective which underpins the very existence of MKBLP.

Artist’s impression of the planned MK:U campus.

It is also vital that we continue to market our city as the ideal location for business. Its low carbon footprint is a model for sustainable living – something which will resonate with many organisations – and our ability through the Institute of Technology and the planned new university MK:U to create skills locally will draw recognition from a global audience.

But we must join forces and work collaboratively to promote this.

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