Top Gear – a sad end

I’m not sure what to make of the Top Gear debacle which resulted in the bringing down of the Institution that is was Top Gear.

topgear1

On Sunday night I watched the slightly surreal ‘last episode’ – complete with elephant in the room (called Jeremy apparently). No audience, just a slightly sombre looking James May and Richard Hammond. Just the two of them ‘introducing two films’.

The films were as good as most Top Gear stuff that has developed over the last ten years or more. I was nearly crying at the antics. Yes, it’s boys stuff.

It’s boorish, silly, immature and very very funny. The three presenters clearly do have a magical bond and relationship that allows this programme to work. It has little to do with cars – and thus the entertainment factor appeals to both sexes.

So the dilemma?

Clarkson punching someone clearly over-stepped the mark. Considerably. I’m not sure we will ever know the full story though. If it was a prima donna move then he rightly should have been punished.

Before the days of twitter and Facebook though would this have passed us all by? Would we have really ever had this trial so public in days gone by? A jury of millions…

The whole thing is really sad. I don’t think that the new team will be able to emulate what these three guys have ever done.

Maybe they shouldn’t. Perhaps this should be a Fawlty Towers moment – quit whilst ahead?

Transport and Nottingham – or are we….

My last blog was all that was positive about Nottingham and our improving transport system. Then the Government go and spoil to party.

electification

The 2013 five-year plan to electrify the line from London to Sheffield was to cost £500m and help break the North-South divide. The Northern Powerhouse was alive and kicking.

The blurb on the Network Rail website still says,

“By 2020 the Midland main line will be electrified and rail bottlenecks removed, improving capacity.

The comprehensive programme of works includes realigning and replacing tracks, remodelling stations, reconstructing bridges, lengthening platforms and improving signalling.

Passengers can look forward to faster, smoother, more comfortable, journeys on a new fleet of trains. People living near the railway will experience a cleaner, quieter railway.

A Midland main line railway fit for the future will reduce overcrowding and meet growing demand for rail travel.”

But the train has come off the track. De-railed.

The whole scheme is ‘paused’. This is code, in my view, for ‘shelved’.

This is not a great news story for the East Midlands. The ink has only just dried on the Election Result – and it’s had to believe that the Tories didn’t know about the ‘costing more and taking longer‘ small issue two months ago. I suspect they did! And if so – that is shameful.

Transport and Nottingham – we are getting there…

It’s been a long time coming (and we still have some projects underway) but it looks like Nottingham has two projects coming to fruition imminently.

a453

The first is the A453 – which I drove down in the week. The Clifton end was open and I was told that the rest is due to open any day – by the time you read this it may be finished. This £150m project is three months ahead of programme. I was pleased to see the average speed cameras were down!

This road really does have the potential to significantly improve the connection to the South.

What a pity that the project managers on the A453 weren’t involved in the tram scheme. We have no date for an opening and it is six months behind plan. But the 20,000 testing hours are being chipped away at. We are seeing more trams outside my office at NG2 Business Park. Hopefully the tram will be fully open very soon.

This leaves the ring road improvements which are progressing in stages – widening lanes to relieve the traffic around the city. This is still a bit of a mess – but hopefully the work will be complete by the time summer is out.

Transport is incredibly important to the City and these projects have the potential to add to the economic prosperity of this fair city.

Business and Education

Yesterday I chaired a meeting at the St James’ Hotel in Nottingham. It was arranged by the Nottingham Post and was intended to stimulate a debate around employability and whether schools, colleges and Universities are providing business with the employees they need.

apprentice

This was second (very) early start for this type of event – which followed on for a similar event back in January. But this time the focus was different.

We had some key players in the room and the debate was really interesting.

My take:

1. Don’t blame schools, colleges and Universities for poor students – they are generally under-funded.

2. Parents have a massive role to play and in some cases they may be absent or otherwise distracted (drugs and alcohol were mentioned).

3. One size doesn’t fit all – we need a range of people to fill positions. Not everyone can be the boss!

4. There is a huge stigma still attached to ‘apprenticeships’ or ‘vocational work’ – comments such as ‘it is such a shame that Jonny is doing an apprenticeship – bless him – too thick for University!‘. These comments don’t help and will take some time to fix.

5. Vocational training should be re-branded ‘skill training’.

6. The schools particularly do need to engage more with business. Part time careers advisors may have other focus – teaching!

There was a really interesting point made by Simon Gray from Nottingham Means Business. He had met with a project from Nashville who had three strands to their strategy to improve connection between business and schools. The first was ‘Externships’ – getting teachers in the six weeks holiday to work in business. Secondly, a dedicated business engagement advisor and finally, branding schools to be aligned with business…

There was real food for thought.

Our next challenge is to engage with a group of young people – rather than the usual suspects from the business community! If you know someone who might be interested in taking part – let me know. If you are a young person reading this middle age bloke’s blog – likewise – get in touch!

It was quite a long way…

Following my blog on Saturday I’m delighted to tell you we managed to get 15 people from Nottingham to Skegness on ‘push bikes’ on Saturday. You probably know by now that we were raising money for Cancer Research UK – and this was the big event.

Team Innes England

Team Innes England

Although a few of have ridden a bike it was a challenge taking a big group. The route had been planned carefully to avoid the main roads as far as possible (I rode the A46 a few weeks ago which was ‘interesting’). Our thanks to Craig Watson for doing this.

We also had technical support from Richard at Lovevelo – and he was needed before we started! Ben Taylor managed to get a puncture in Lowdham lay-by the start point – and a second one in East Bridgford! Debs and Charlotte from the Derby office provided transport as there were no volunteers to cycle back!

We had a few mishaps. I shall not embarrass the two riders who went South on the A46 when ‘North’ was needed. They know who they are…

As for me – this was the longest ride I have ever done – 75 miles. I had hoped to be under 5 hours and three of arrived in Skegness in 4 hours 19 minutes – averaging 16.8mph. The wind direction helped!

As at last night we had raised over £10,500 for Cancer Research – we are absolutely delighted! thanks to everyone who supported. There are some photographs on our Facebook page here.

My next challenge on the bike is a small ride in Scotland in September – 220 miles…

Checklist … for today!

So this morning we set off for Skegness on our Charity Cycle Ride – raising money for Cancer Research UK.

CRUK_top

My checklist …

1. Check the sponsorship total to date – here. Amazingly it is over our £10,000 target! We are really grateful to everyone who has donated!

2. Jelly babies stock. These are ‘filtered’ black, red and orange only. Yellow and green are sent to my mother-in-law.

3. Smoothie mix – three bananas, half pot of peanut butter, ice and milk. Maximum protein intake in fluid form! Mixed metaphor – Peanut butter – a marmite moment!

4. Nuun and water for the other bottle.

5. Protein gel – disgusting texture but fast acting!

6. Playlist on ipod – punk bias. There will be angry moments. It’s an age thing!

7. Lycra. Enough said. The shirt looks great though!

8. Garmin GPS fully charged with route planned in it

9. Laminated emergency route card with mobile numbers – including the Chairmans mobile for ‘emotional support‘ – may be needed!

10. Money – for the fish and chips at the end. Assuming we make the end.

I’ll let you know how we get on!

I was tempted to suggest a knotted hankie – but this would stereotype Skegness in a negative sort of way – so I won’t. I’ll put a shell suit in instead.

Cycle Republic Nottingham – opens its doors

Cycling seems to be enjoying something of a renaissance. I’d like to tell you that I enjoy the training I have been doing – but that would probably be stretching the truth a little. Skegness is a long way and this weekend my colleagues and I will hit the road on Saturday – raising money for Cancer Research UK.

ictoria-Pendleton-pictured-at-Cycle-Republic-251242

Last Friday I was invited the opening of the new Cycle Republic store in Nottingham. The pouring rain wasn’t a great advert for cycling – but the shop was. It’s an impressive place with a fantastic range of bikes and equipment. They have a workshop too – and if they can’t fix your bike in the day they’ll lend you a bike.

The business model is quite clever and the Director who set it all up explained that he had looked at a number of features of other sectors – including car dealerships. They are clearly working on developing a brand image – if they get it right it will be a great addition to Nottingham.

In the meantime I was interested to see at the weekend that Halfords (who own Cycle Republic) will announce this week a jump in pre-tax profits to £78.8m from £72.8m last year.

The Nottingham store was the fifth branded Cycle Republic Store – three in London and one in Norwich came before. They are expecting 20 stores by the end of the year. Two years ago Halfords announced a £100m investment in these stores and it looks like it is paying off. Victoria Pendleton has a range of bikes in store – in a ‘ladies’ section.

And this is a turnaround story – six years ago Halfords closed eight stores trading as Cycle Republic as they weren’t making money! It cost them £1.2m to do so.

I was impressed with the new store and the range they offer – it will now be my store of choice.

I wonder if they can fit a small little motor to the wheels for my bike for the weekend?

Robin Hood… again!

Yesterday I had a coffee with Bob White – Chairman of the World Wide Robin Hood Society. I first met Bob when I was part of the Sheriff’s Commission back in 2009. He’s been busy! Bob recently put out a survey asking Nottingham Businesses about how Nottingham ‘uses’ Robin Hood. Here’s an extract from his Press Release…

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Enlightening, damning and disappointing in equal measures” was how Bob summed up the findings of the Survey “We had 436 responses to our Sixty Second Survey. Businesses were asked to rate their agreement/disagreement with 12 statements about the City and County’s connections with the Robin Hood legend and overall, the replies and comments emphatically confirmed the view that not enough is done to exploit the real potential.”

The diverse nature of the businesses who responded covered a wide spectrum, ranging from small operators with just a handful of employees, to those with several thousand but Bob commented that “The most surprising and disappointing factor was the lack of response from any of the representative business groups, who had been specifically targeted for their views. This tends to indicate that certain quarters of local business and commerce are still not comfortable with the traditional Robin Hood associations. This reflects badly on a City that claims to be “visionary” and somewhat embarrassingly confirms the negative criticisms expressed in many of the survey replies! “

“There was also a “deafening silence” from the creative design and marketing sector” said Bob, “But after further enquiries, “off the record” verbal responses we received implied that the embarrassing “Slanty N” debacle of 10 years ago still cast a long shadow over any branding issues for Nottingham and creative marketing companies were wary of getting their fingers burnt!

And the summary?

Statement 1 – “It helps put the City and County “on the map!” – 99% agreed – 1% were less sure.

Statement 2 – “It generates “ local pride”- 97% agreed – 3% were less sure.

Statement 3 – “It is irrelevant to 21st Century business” *- 59% agreed – 31% were less sure. (*This statement was the only one that resulted in varied responses across all 5 levels of the survey, which clearly demonstrated a wide spectrum of views and opinions on this particular issue.)

Statement 4 – “It has become a globally recognised iconic “brand”- 99% agreed – 1% disagreed.

Statement 5 – “It has become a divisive distraction”- 99% disagreed – 1% agreed.

Statement 6 – “It is an old-fashioned/out-dated image” – 97.5% disagreed – 2.5% were less sure.

Statement 7 – “More could be done to capitalise on the benefits” – 99% agreed – 1% were less sure.

Statement 8 – “It has no place in business” – 99% disagreed – 1% were less sure.

Statement 9 – “It is a proven conversation “ice-breaker” and a popular general talking point”-  99.5% totally agreed – 0.5% less sure.

Statement 10 – “It’s a “millstone” round the City & County’s neck”- 99.5% disagreed – 0.5% less so.

Statement 11 – “It is an “over-played” factor – 98% disagreed – 2% less so.

Statement 12 – “It represents an under-exploited marketing and publicity asset“ –  99% agreed – 1% less so.

I think that is fairly clear then. And sadly not much different from 2009!

Rock and photography

One of my favourite new shops in Nottingham is Rough Trade records in Hockley. Their timing has been pretty perfect in tapping into the rejuvenated vinyl record movement.

PeterAndersonJoeStrummerRT

I heard yesterday that there is an event at Rough Trade on Friday 5th June.

It’s the premiere of a short rock documentary made in Nottingham, on the work of Peter Anderson and his iconic catalogue of rock photos – they have been listed among the top 50 rock shots of all time.

Peter was an NME staff photographer while still at the Royal College in the 80s. He only uses available light, preferring a spontaneous approach which relies on the creativity of the subject.

He also makes his own meter and a half sized giant prints. The documentary has been made in the same spirit, using only available light – hence the film’s name – including showing the process of printing – pretty rare skill these days…

Here’s one of his images – of Joe Strummer.

Plus there will be a short director’s talk, a Q&A with Peter about his famous subjects, DJs, beer and food, plus a general party!

Details are available here – it sounds a great evening!

Young professionals

At the Nottingham Means Business Lunch today I met Dan Miller – a 16 year old in a hurry! Dan has set up a network called Young Professionals – which he is launching at Antenna on 30th June 2015.

young-people

This is something I am really keen to support and encourage you to do so too!

I will be chairing the second ‘Round Table’ event which is promoted by the Nottingham Post later in June. After out last debate it was clear that we had a room full of passionate business people – but a real lack of young people represented. The next debate is going to focus on how we improve links between schools and businesses. We are also going to look at the role of colleges and what the bright young things need to grow and prosper in Nottingham.

We are keen to join the dots in the journey from school to work…

If you know any young people who might be interested in taking part – let me know! We need to get a good representation of the younger generation!

In the meantime – please support Dan in his endeavours!