Five counties in search of an identity.
"It's terribly easy to dwell on the pain," says Philip Champ, East Midlands Electricity's corporate development director. Yet on a bright spring day amid the splendour of Nottingham's Rutland Square Hotel, the idea of pain seemed somewhat remote.
But for the 25 businessmen and women at the Management Today East Midlands regional lunch, the sharp increase in local unemployment brought about by the recession was definitely worry enough. In the past year it has risen from a respectable 5.1% to 6.1%. "The traditional industries are not having the best of times," Champ confessed. The current number of business failures is also, it seems, well in line with the national average.
It was not all doom and gloom, however. Some of the participants felt that the very diversity of the local economy, which had served it so well in the 1980s, should also see it through the 1990s. With its eggs in so many baskets, "the worst thing possible would be to present a unified image. We must stress our differences ... we achieve our strength through diversity," said Professor Ray Cowell, director of Nottingham Polytechnic.
This provoked a lively debate with John Madocks, the chairman of Central Independent Television, claiming that "if ever there was a need for coalition, it was now". His comments reflected the widespread view in the region that - lacking a dominant city such as Leeds or Glasgow - there was no clear East Midlands identity. "Does it exist at all?" asked Champ.
Madocks was certainly in no doubt: "We have a great deal going for us after seven years of sustained growth. Manufacturing in the East Midlands still represents 32% of the area's GDP, only marginally behind the West Midlands. The economy is more profitable than the whole of Scotland."
A dissenting voice came from Nat Puri, chairman of the Melton Medes group. It was all very well to talk about the region's prospects, he said, "but what will happen when the stops come off, when interest rates come down? Will we simply go back to buying more from overseas? The East Midlands cannot simply divorce itself from UK Ltd."
As with many of the Management Today regional lunches, the complaint emerged that the local infrastructure was not up to scratch for 1992. Paul Hodgkinson, chairman of the successful Simons building group in Lincoln, warned that the roads to the east coast ports would have to be improved, particularly with the presence of Toyota in Derby. "But I strongly disagree with the view that we should not promote the area. The most important thing is to get the message across that the East Midlands is there. At present we are not a clearly identified blob for inward investment," he said.
Following in the tradition of previous seminars, many of those present expressed a healthy disrespect for the South-east. Jean Parker of Vacu-Lug Tyres contrasted its "madness" during the '80s with the more consistent growth seen in the East Midlands. The region's broad economic base, she continued, had meant that "while we never hit the highs, we never hit the lows either".
The East Midlands, it seems, is for the moment quite content with the middle ground.