Chair's Blog - January 2018
Opportunity. That’s the big theme for 2018.
This is a pivotal year for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. The economic landscape is changing and new industries are emerging. Our region is poised to be at the forefront of a new technology-driven economy, attracting investment and jobs as the Government reshapes its economic agenda for a post-Brexit Britain.
And that’s not rhetoric. Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly have a unique set of industry specialisations – some new and some well-established – that are growing or rapidly emerging as competitive strengths.
Traditional industries like marine and mining are embracing technology to create new opportunities, while our tourism industry remains the envy of the UK.
Massive investment in digital connectivity has spawned one of the fastest growing tech clusters in the country and is the bedrock on which many of our digital and creative businesses are built. Both these sectors are growing twice as fast as the UK economy.
Many of our assets – either natural or man-made – are aligned with emerging economic opportunities, whether that’s lithium in old mine water, geothermal energy in our granite, tracking satellites in space, or commercial spaceflight from Cornwall Airport Newquay.
And crucially, many of these opportunities chime with the Government’s Industrial Strategy, which was published in November.
This sets out how the Government want to build a Britain ‘fit for the future’ by helping businesses to create better, higher-paid jobs in every part of the UK with investment in skills, industries and infrastructure.
The Industrial Strategy is hugely important because it is the Government’s growth roadmap for life after Brexit. It will inform future investment decisions across the board including how the Government divvies up its Shared Prosperity Fund among the English regions, which is designed in part to replace EU funding. We expect a consultation on the fund later this year.
But it’s a competitive process and failure to articulate to Government how Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly can help deliver its growth agenda would be a disaster.
That’s one reason why the LEP has just published a prospectus setting out a 21st Century ‘pitch’ to Government and industry for future investment.
Called ’10 Opportunities’, it focusses on 10 key sectors that can play a critical role in delivering the Government’s Industrial Strategy and growing the economy of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly now and in the future. It spans creative industries, space, energy, digital, agri-food, tourism, marine, mining, aerospace and eHealth.
It outlines the assets we have – both physical and human – in each sector, and the opportunities there are for the public and private sector to co-invest in their growth and development. It also makes a powerful case for our region to be a testbed for new ideas and policies, from the creation of a smart grid on the Isles of Scilly, to trialling a new VAT regime for tourism businesses, to being a pathfinder for the rural rollout of 5G mobile technology.
We hope we’ve got the focus mostly right, but to make sure we are staging a series of business-focussed events across Cornwall in the coming weeks where we will be inviting comment on the 10 Opportunities ‘pitch’. To book your place click here.
We are encouraging informal industry groups to take ownership of their sectors and help us to keep the document current and relevant. Some of those groups exist already, others do not. We are mindful for example that renewable energy spans a huge area and we are keen to convene a group that represents the broad spectrum of interests.
If you would like to get involved, represent, or talk about a particular sector then please do come along to one of our events or you can contact us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
The 10 Opportunities prospectus will be used to inform future discussions with Ministers and investors in shaping an investment programme for our region. LEPs will soon be tasked with drawing up Local Industrial Strategies specific to their areas and we are pressing to be in the first wave of LEPs that does so.
That’s why we are doing the legwork now so we can respond with tangible proposals with a strong focus on commercial opportunities that create jobs. And the uncertainties around Brexit, rising inflation and input costs, and the impact of new immigration policies on the movement of labour are all looming issues that we must insulate ourselves against as far as possible.
Our message is clear: in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly you will find willing partners to drive business growth and transform the UK economy. You can support that message using the hashtag #TenOpportunities
But there is a major challenge for all of us. The potential social benefits of economic growth cannot be underplayed, and the Industrial Strategy talks of a need to ensure that everyone can embrace and benefit from the opportunity of technological change.
But I think it’s about much more than that. The crucial issue is how do we enable residents of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly to both contribute to and benefit from economic growth? In other words, how do we make growth inclusive?
Inclusive growth is about balancing the needs of all citizens, communities and places through economic opportunity. Promoting social value through inclusive growth can also reap business benefits by sustaining people in work and supporting them to be more productive, while reducing the cost of welfare. It’s about aligning a competitive economic agenda with a prosperous social agenda, and it’s a priority for us in 2018.
That’s one reason why we are working directly with Government and Sarah Newton MP, Minister of State for Disabled People, Health and Work, on a national pilot to create more opportunities for disability employment and devise a model that can be applied in other parts of the UK.
Reaching people at the edge of the labour market is just one aspect of inclusive growth. Our challenge however is to deliver real change to many more people’s lives. That’s why we are working with Cornwall Council and social enterprise Cornwall Neighbourhoods for Change to help us address the inclusive growth challenge. Our vision for a competitive and prosperous economy is built on the triumvirate of people, place and business, and we won’t succeed without all three.
The coming months are going to be very busy for the LEP. We are currently finalising some key investments from our £18 million Growth Deal 3 programme and look forward to announcing these shortly.
We expect to hear by the end of March if our Spaceport Cornwall bid has been successful. The Government has set aside £50m in its Industrial Strategy to help develop new satellite launch services and low-gravity spaceflights from UK spaceports, which is exactly the sort of activity we want to attract to Newquay.
By the summer we expect the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Investment Fund to be up and running. Operated by the British Business Bank, this will offer loans and equity to help local businesses grow and will be a revolving fund with a minimum life of 10 years.
I also look forward to taking my place on the Council of LEPs, which will meet twice yearly with the Prime Minister and was announced as part of the Industrial Strategy. Although we already have an excellent relationship with our MPs and civil servants, this will be an opportunity to champion local business needs and contribute to national policy decisions at the highest level.
Opportunity. I’ve said it again.
Mark Duddridge is Chair of the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership.