Sixteen years ago, in the spring of 2007, I was a newly selected parliamentary candidate to stand as MP for Hereford and South Herefordshire. It still feels like yesterday.
Of course there was a lot of campaigning to do, and an election to be won. But I also wanted to set out a positive vision for change in Herefordshire, and that meant thinking hard about the fundamentals.
Why were wages so low, overall? Why was there very little unemployment, but quite a lot of underemployment? And what could we do to arrest these trends and regenerate the local economy?
I came to two key conclusions. The first was that the county needed a lot more public investment in order to kickstart growth. It had plenty of great small and medium-sized businesses, but its rural location and small and sparse population meant that it was structurally short of private capital. In this context, additional public investment could make a huge difference.
The second was that we needed to find some way to build up skills locally, and then keep them in the county.
We had fantastic colleges and the superb Herefordshire Group Training, but we needed to create more pathways for local young people to develop their capabilities and use them locally in existing companies or as entrepreneurs in their own new businesses, rather than losing them to Bristol or Birmingham or London.
Now, 16 years later, we have made huge progress on both of these ambitions;. Our recent £20 million Levelling Up Fund win takes the total public investment in which I have been involved since 2010 to over £120 million, by my calculation.
And we now have NMITE, our own university project — and the first exciting signs that it will be able to deliver on its mandate. Its initial cohort of 30 students will graduate in September 2024 with a Masters degree in Engineering — the first students ever to have been educated to that level in the history of Herefordshire.
And what is more exciting still: NMITE have already secured conditional job offers for over half of them, from a fantastic group of local tech and engineering businesses. That’s 15 job offers, subject only to a final interview, on a pay scale that starts at £30,000.
Which are these pioneering companies? Step forward, in alphabetical order, ABT Products, ETL Systems, Kirintec, REHAU, TRP Sealing Systems and Welsh Water.
This is not philanthropy, but hard business sense.
They know NMITE and its focus on advanced practical skills, they have met the staff and students, and they can see the value of recruiting really talented young people locally.
So, if you’re a local business with similar goals, why not get involved with NMITE and see what they are doing for yourself? And if you’re between the ages of 18 and 30 and want a great local education and a great job, NMITE may be the place for you.