The Artful Codger - Love thy neighbour

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Further confirmation that West Norfolk has a world-class economic powerhouse on its southern border comes with the news that Cambridge has clinched the top spot in a league table assessing Britain’s best places to do business.

Two other university cities, Oxford and Edinburgh, take second and third places in Santander’s Town and City Index, which ranks conurbations by measuring the health of enterprises, local talent, connectivity, costs and well-being.

And on the same day, it was announced that Cambridge-based ARM Holdings has retained its lead over California’s Intel in the race to power the world’s smartphones and tablets, and expects 10 billion chips bearing its designs to be sold this year – a real case of homespun Silicon Fen upstaging the mighty Silicon Valley.

Not surprisingly, shares in ARM, which is Britain’s largest technology company, have almost doubled since last May, and the business is now valued at around £13 billion.

Given that Britain is on the verge of a triple recession, the growth in hi-tech industries around Cambridge and its university is little short of incredible.

As I have pointed out before, the very top jobs in Cambridge may not provide too many opportunities for West Norfolk. Entry levels for hi-tech careers now usually require, at the very least, a good science or maths degree from one of the better universities and in many cases companies are now asking for a PhD for starters.

It’s not that West Norfolk is alone in being unlikely to supply many of the highly-qualified people needed to fill these important posts. There is a national shortage of graduates with the right maths and science degrees, a situation lamented by vacuum-cleaner entrepreneur James Dyson, among others. Indeed, many universities are reporting shortfalls in numbers of students for maths and science courses, something that’s going to cause big problems in the future.

Despite these difficulties, Cambridge is continuing to power ahead, and with considerable housing expansion in the pipeline, particularly to the north of the city and in the general direction of West Norfolk, it seems likely there will be a variety of other job opportunities that will benefit our area.

The much-heralded improvements in rail facilities at Ely, which will allow increased services through this key junction, together with the building of a new station at Chesterton Sidings, next to the Science Park and St John’s Innovation Centre, are all plusses for us. House prices have rocketed in the city, and it is certain the ripples from this wave of demand will spread out as far as West Norfolk. Although West Norfolk has an excellent rail link to Cambridge, the same cannot be said of the A10, which meanders its way, past Downham, down to Littleport and Ely, in much the same fashion that it has done for generations.

While we moan about the stretches of the A47, it’s a positive motorway compared with the A10. Perhaps this will all change with the growing influence that Cambridge will exert over our area in the years ahead.