I recently returned from China, following a ministerial visit along with the leaders of Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds and Newcastle councils.
China is the second largest economy in the world and will grow by the size of Germany's economy again in the next ten years.
China is a wonder of achievement, building 17,000 km of high-speed rail in the last ten years and skyscrapers that dwarf New York’s.
So why did I go? Firstly, to support the Northern Powerhouse, it is essential that we rebalance the UK economy as London overheats and the North has the skills base and appetite to attract investment into our growing economies.
Cheshire is the gateway to the Northern Powerhouse and we are already doing well with record low levels of unemployment and our companies are doing well – very well – and that is an important message I took to China. I believe that Cheshire has the best economy in the North, especially with our northern science corridor and our manufacturing excellence throughout the borough.
One of the key sites that the trip marketed was the Alderley Park bio-science park, which went down very well with potential investors.
Once the decision on the HS2 northern hub is announced, hopefully at Crewe, then there will be a whole range of new sites across Cheshire and potentially Staffordshire that could attract investors from China.
China, as the major exporting economy to the world, has billions of pounds worth of foreign currency to invest as well as a market of 1.5 billion people for our companies to sell into.
Because of the trip, Cheshire East was introduced to many key investors and, for many of our companies, we have started a process they will be able to utilise to attract investment – and that should mean more jobs, more wealth across the borough.
It was an exhausting trip, three cities and six flights in six days – but it does illuminate the scale of opportunity for our employers and, potentially, to the Council.
The final message I give is that it was amazing to see how quickly major investment decisions can be made – and delivered – in China.
I do not, of course, suggest that we copy their approach, but it is nevertheless impressive and does show what people and a nation can do when they put there mind to it. I do support this kind of energy and delivery. However, a plan-led approach and thorough public consultation is the right way for us here in the UK.
So, a fascinating six days, lessons learnt and questions posed. We will need to think more about the opportunities but it was well worth a visit and hopefully the start of more jobs and wealth for the whole of Cheshire East and beyond.