AGM 2021 – Chamber of Commerce. Chief Executive’s Report

A transcript of Michael Ratcliffe’s report to the AGM:

I see from my last year’s annual report that I was asking everyone during June to believe
that the pint pot was half full and the worst of Covid-19 was over. Well here we are 12
months later, still in lockdown to a large degree and most of us feeling frustrated at the lack
of leadership in government, despite the successful vaccine programme. It is clear to me
that politicians must enjoy navel gazing whilst listening to their ‘modelling experts’, rather
than looking at the much wider picture of the country’s economy and its general wellbeing.
There is certainly both a lack of understanding and common sense at Westminster, or am I
wrong….somehow I don’t think so.

Moving on then; the first 3 months of 2020 saw your Chamber having its regular monthly,
Monday lunchtime meetings. When suddenly on 23 March the country went into lockdown
and lifestyles changed dramatically. I guess not many of us had contemplated being locked
up at home and using virtual meetings to do business, but there we were and there was
nothing we could do about it, except accept the situation and make the most of it.
So for the last 16 months I expect we have all experienced varying degrees of angst and as I
say just have to get on with it regretably. Particularly challenging for those in the hospitality
and entertainment fields.

So from that Armageddon day, for the rest of the 2020 year your Chamber office was
closed, with Pauline our administrator working from home as best she could, which was
challenging at times. Pauline actually retired last December after some 16 years Chamber
service, as did another Board stalwart Jackie Fletcher, who had been with the Chamber for
an even longer period, firstly as it’s administrator and then as our events coordinator.

Both ladies were truly dedicated to the wellbeing of your Chamber and were duly presented
with beautiful engraved vases. Our thanks go to Martins the jewellers for their finesse and
caring attention in providing those gifts.

Your Chamber also kept itself busy from April onwards with monthly Board virtual meetings
and providing the opportunity for great camaraderie. Recognising that local businesses
were suffering generally, the decision was made to provide 4 months’ free membership.
And so it was most pleasing to find that the majority of members subsequently renewed
their membership, thank you. Also our thanks go to the numerous new members who have
come on board. It’s great to have you joining the Chamber.

You know, your Chamber Board is made up of a variety of business people who give their
time freely and who wish to contribute to the wellbeing of our town. Over the last 117
years your Chamber has given good service to this town and I would suggest that Chamber
members belong to this long standing community of caring business people who wish to see
their environment grow and prosper; for themselves, their families and their businesses. In
fact, the Chamber is really a family of businesses and I would like to emphasise that, a family
of businesses who, through networking and mutually working together, find it easier to
become more successful. Cheltenham has a lot going for it and it’s up to us, the business
community, to assist and improve it, whenever and wherever we can.

Now looking briefly at what has been happening locally during 2020, we see that with
regards to Boots corner, because politicians like time to reflect, nothing has happened!
Whilst Cheltenham’s new Hub 8 programme moved forward despite the Covid challenges,
as did CBC’s Cyber programme and the painfully slow Arle Court roadworks. The town’s
railway station infrastructure continued to improve, whilst further afield the M5 Junction 10
and A417 road programmes miraculously continued their evolution towards manifestation.
Suffice to say there were a number of other activities curtesy of the County Council, the LEP
and CBC, involving your Chamber.

There is one matter, however, which does give us concern and that is the potential long
term closure of Cheltenham General Hospital’s (CGH) A&E department by the Hospital
Trust. It is a fact that the A&E department at Gloucester Royal, our county hospital, is most
inadequate in serving the county’s populous of nearly 650,000. Your Chamber together
with the town’s MP, Alex Chalk and also his predecessor have fought long and hard to keep
a Type 1 A&E facility open in Cheltenham. So following its closure in June of last year, I am
pleased to be able to report its reopening earlier this month, although we still have some
way to go before it becomes a full Type 1 A&E.

Understandably, following lockdown the Chamber’s regular networking events came to a
close until we were able to organise a series of online seminars and business forum events
covering a variety of topics. Just recapping, there were presentations by Hughes-Paddison,
Prestbury Marketing, Raikes Journal, Marketing Cheltenham, The BID, Alex Chalk our MP,
First Solutions, our University Business School, and David Owen the G-First LEP CEO. Our
thanks go to all those participating, including those not mentioned.

Clearly it would be remiss of me if I did not express thanks to all of our voluntary Executive
Board. They are a great group of people working together, often behind the scenes, for the
wellbeing of your town – my thanks go to each and every one of them.

On a sad note, I feel it only right to mention one of our stalwart Board members, Kevan
Blackadder, who shortly after the year end passed over following a protracted illness. Many
of you will remember Kevan as the Echo’s Editor for many years and subsequently the BID’s
CEO. Kevan had that special gift of getting common sense to prevail, not always an easy
task when dealing with politicians! His humour and stories not least will be missed indeed.
So, now the second virtual AGM comes to a close. Next year we shall definitely be able to
hold our AGM at the Municipal Offices during March, shan’t we..? But don’t hold your

Thank you very much for joining us this afternoon. The giving of your time is appreciated. I
would like to believe that during the next 12 months our government will give back to us
both our freedom and our democracy. Wishing to believe that the pint pot is half full –
haven’t we heard that somewhere before!

Thank you.
Michael Ratcliffe
Chief Executive



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