The rebirth of Rotherham

Mike firth, chairman of the Yorkshire International Business Convention. 'picture: Simon Dewhirst Photography
Mike firth, chairman of the Yorkshire International Business Convention. 'picture: Simon Dewhirst Photography
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Successfully hosting the prestigious Yorkshire International Business Convention showed Rotherham’s renaissance has begun, say town leaders.

The convention, staged at Magna Science Adventure Centre, welcomed over 400 delegates for a day of inspirational speeches and networking opportunities.

Key speakers ranged from respected BBC News Business Editor Robert Peston to adventurer Rosie Swale-Pope MBE. Other speakers at the annual convention, founded in 1995 by businessman Mike Firth, included Richard Noble OBE, who spoke about his inspirational efforts to create the world’s first 1,000mph car, former political heavyweights Michael Portillo and John Prescott, Rotherham’s World Cup referee Howard Webb, who spoke about triumph under pressure, and Mexborough-born actor Brian Blessed.

Rotherham Council chief executive Martin Kimber said:

“The convention marks an incredible few years for Rotherham’s business renaissance. Our town centre has seen off challenges from out-of-town retailers, has an award=winning market and has made a name for itself for supporting independent retailers. And we have the internationally-renowned Advanced Manufacturing Park, home to some of the world’s most innovative companies, including Boeing and Rolls-Royce, as a base for researching and manufacturing the latest technologies.”

Mike Firth, Chairman of YIBC, said: “This is the most dynamic part of the country with world-class organisations. This is a hotbed of manufacturing innovation and we need to let the world know its potential.”

Hosting such a prestigious event is a feather in the cap of a unique venue which is growing rapidly as a corporate venue, says Magna.

John Silker, general manager, commented: “We want to be at the heart of supporting businesses locally and events like this are very important to the town.

“Corporate bookings are booming at Magna; bookings are up by about a quarter on last year.”

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A rapid rise in UK interest rates would be a disaster, plunging millions into a misery of personal debt.

Award-winning BBC journalist Robert Peston warned the YIBC that, despite green shoots in the economy and a ‘remarkable’ rise in employment figures, there would be dire consequences if there was too swift a hike.

“As we went into the recession our debt was at record levels. The weight of it is still bearing down on us. If rates went up to 1990s levels, many would face severe financial problems,” the widely-respected BBC News business editor warned.

“Our economy is growing faster than in any other rich developed country but people will not feel significantly better off for some time because productivity has fallen and that means companies cannot increase wages, which causes a stagnant standard of living.

“Major issues I see are that the too-big-to-save banks are still with us and we are still putting an enormous amount of trust in regulators to keep up with what the banks are doing.”

Peston, who had Sheffield City Region commerce and industry representatives in his thrall, also lambasted the Eurozone. It was, he said, “on symptom-suppressing painkillers from the Central Bank.”

He saw big change for China, predicting “the end of the miracle” due to its banks having lent $15 trillion in the last eight years.

“But if China rebalances properly there will be huge opportunities for UK exporters,” he rallied.

There was further optimism at the end of his speech: “We need to address key issues; the UK still has too much debt, we are no longer self-sufficient in energy and our young people are lacking in world-class skills,” he said.

“I think we have three or four years of work ahead. But don’t tell anyone... I am more optimistic than I have been in years.”

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A dire shortfall of engineering graduates is threatening the future of British industry - but a supersonic car that can travel faster than a bullet could be turning the tide.

The Bloodhound SSC will be aiming to smash through the sound barrier and break the land speed record at 1,000mph in a desert in South Africa’s Northern Cape next year. But meanwhile the science behind its creation is turning on the next generation of physicists and mathematicians.

Richard Noble OBE told delegates at the YIBC his Bloodhound SSC is a battle of physics - and one giant science project for UK schoolchildren.

“Bloodhound’s aim is not only the speed record. It is to engage science and maths pupils,” he said. “There is a dire shortfall in engineering graduates - we need 100,000 a year to keep pace with the rest of the world and we are only getting 30,000.

“Primary school children need to be seeing real world data and examples to be fully engaged in physics.

“Bloodhound is touring schools, including South Yorkshire’s, to make pupils part of the adventure,” added Noble, who with no engineering background, in 1974 sold his sports car to buy a jet engine and build Thrust, which went on to smash the land speed record at 633 mph.

He praised the “capabilities and passion” of Sheffield firm Newburgh Engineering, whose experts are creating Bloodhound’s suspension components.

“Newburgh were in it right from the beginning. Their commitment and passion is really important because they are going to be pushed to deliver,” he added.

“What is also very exciting is that their apprentices are very involved in the project. There is an enormous legacy here.

“Data from the Bloodhound project will be fully available. We have a no-patents policy. It is going to cause change.”

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South Yorkshire Miners are a hardy breed and the gene has undoubtedly been inherited by actor Brian Blessed.

Born in Mexborough the son of a collier, he has thrice climbed Everest, in 1993 reaching 28,000 feet, the highest a man of his age has ever reached without oxygen.

And now outer space, another passion from childhood, is in within his grasp. The man whose favourite acting role was in the film Flash Gordon will be heading to the International Space Station next year, he revealed to the YIBC audience.

“I did my training on volcanoes in Reunion Island and I am ready to go; I’m first reserve,” he said.

Blessed will then be almost 79, but that does not daunt him. He inspired delegates by saying: “I am sick to death of ageism in this country. I am 77 and I will not be restricted by that.”

Blessed grew up in Goldthorpe and had to leave school at 14. He worked as an undertaker’s assistant but pursued his dream of becoming an actor and won a drama scholarship.

His career spans Shakespeare to West End musicals and he is credited as having one of the most distinctive voices ever to grace stage and screen.

That voice was at its most powerful at the YIBC when he blasted the government’s decision to fall behind in the space race.

“We were ahead in the rocket programme. We were the first to put satellites into space. Then we cancelled it. At last, we are going again but it’s not fast enough,” he boomed.

“So many gifted UK scientists are without work. Sheffield’s two universities are producing world class science students; there should be a bigger future for them.”

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My early years in Brinsworth made me who I am, YIBC speaker John Prescott told the Star.

In an interview after a gentle stage grilling alongside former political adversary Michael Portillo, he said: I left there when I was ten. My dad was a railwayman at Masbrough station and we lived on Ellis Street. I have real fondness for Rotherham. It made me what I am.”

Mr Prescott, who now has a seat in the House of Lords, criticised out-of-town shopping centres for crucifying towns like Rotherham. “It’s a real challenge to get them back on their feet. But Rotherham has a great infrastructure, a great location and a great football team. The latter is very important; it gives a town confidence.”