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Our CEO comments on City Status

Our Chief Executive, Paul Clement, shares his thoughts:

Last week, the government announced that, to help celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee next year, it was inviting applications from towns around the country that wished to see themselves granted city status.

Less than a week later, Ipswich, my wonderful home town, decided to not even prepare an application. As a proud Ipswich boy, I feel devastated and let down.
Many of you will have already read about how we have got here, but Ipswich Central will not get dragged into a blame game. We won't point our fingers. We won't play politics. But, we will also not shirk our responsibilities. We were elected to represent you, we will speak up for you and we will demand that your voice is heard.

We know that, ultimately, the decision rests with others and that our role must be to persuade and to commit to working with them. The process set down by government requires our local council to submit the application and our MPs to get behind it. But, more than anything, any process such as this demands vision, ambition and leadership.

This is a vital, long-term decision; we recognise that there will be a range of views. But it must be appreciated that it is not about your and my generation; it is about the kind of place that we all want to leave for our children and grandchildren. The Centre for Cities has previously reported that “…UK city economies are at the heart of the national economy: they are 21 per cent more productive than non-urban areas and host 72 per cent of all highly skilled jobs....the strongest performing city centres are the most productive parts of the UK economy, and host more productive and higher paying jobs than other areas.”

So, this is not a badge on a wall we are talking about. It isn’t some vanity project. It is about long-term investment opportunities, jobs and wages. It really, really matters. Yet, a decision has apparently been made before the facts have been explained.

Benefiting from hindsight, we can all reflect on previous visionary projects that leaders failed to grasp and so we can learn from those mistakes. For example, short term decision-making led to a 50-year delay in Ipswich gaining university status; those with the power to effect change held our town back for half a century. In my view, whether or not we want Ipswich to be a city is a decision with similar consequences.

Terry, Sophie and I were sitting with a group of businesses (large chains, independents, major employers, property owners and so on) when news came through that Ipswich would not be applying for city status. Fair to say, our business colleagues were astonished, devastated, furious and really concerned about how a proud town like ours could even contemplate not demonstrating its future ambition.

Yesterday lunchtime, with the reaction of those businesses still replaying in my mind, and determined not to let them down, I posted my own, personal views on LinkedIn just to ‘test the water’. By midnight, over 3,000 people had engaged with the article (and the number has grown rapidly since) and every single comment - most of them from you, our local businesses and employers - was totally supportive of the view that the town must think again.
So, we are today issuing a plea to all of our civic leaders - “on behalf of the town centre business community, please don’t rush into a quick decision, take the opportunity to talk to us, think long term and allow us to work with you so that we can decide a matter of such importance together.”

Changing minds on this would not be a sign of weakness. Rather, it would show great strength. As George Bernard Shaw once said: “Progress is impossible without change; those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”

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