Chair's Blog - April 2018
What a wonderful upbeat celebration of business we saw during Cornwall Business Week, culminating in the Cornwall Business Awards at St Mellion with guest speaker Gregg Wallace from the BBC’s Masterchef programme.
One of Gregg’s key messages was if you keep coming in every day and doing the same old thing, then don’t expect anything to change in business. And he’s right. You’ve got to change the recipe, experiment, be adventurous, and don’t be afraid to fail.
Fortunately he was preaching to the converted: the wealth of talent, drive and innovation on display from our local businesses was something to behold, and the LEP sends its warm congratulations to all the finalists and winners on the night.
Sticking with the Masterchef theme, the role of the LEP is to make sure our economy has the right recipe for success. Whether we’re investing tens of millions of pounds into our road and rail infrastructure, or making sure businesses and people have the skills to succeed, having the right ingredients is just as important as how you combine them.
So far this year we’ve been laying the foundations for growth in some of our key sectors. We have announced an £8.4 million investment in Goonhilly Earth Station – part of our Aerohub Enterprise Zone which also includes Cornwall Airport Newquay – to help create the world’s first commercial deep space communications station, capable of tracking future missions to the Moon and Mars.
Our investment, from the Government’s Local Growth Fund, has helped Goonhilly sign international deals only last week at the 34th Space Symposium in America to provide communications support to planned missions both on and around the Moon.
Last month we launched our Space Action Plan during a conference at the Eden Project attended by more than 100 delegates and a range of top industry speakers. Our ambition is to put Cornwall at the heart of the fast-growing space industry and create thousands of new jobs by 2030. We’ve had a lot of feedback on the plan and are refining it to promote Cornwall’s offer to the global space industry.
We had hoped for a decision at the end of March about Government investment in a Spaceport at Cornwall Airport Newquay. We are still optimistic that Newquay can be home to horizontal launch systems for satellites and human space travel, but have been told we will have to wait a little longer for a decision.
Another growth sector is creative industries and we were delighted to confirm a £2 million investment (also from the Local Growth Fund) towards the £20 million revamp of the Hall for Cornwall in Truro. The LEP’s investment will go towards the creation of a new digital and creative cluster including support for post-graduates, new talent and start-up businesses.
Since then the Government has also announced a £150m Creative Industries Sector Deal to help cultural and creative businesses across Britain thrive, and we are looking at how our region can maximise the opportunity it presents.
Opportunity was the theme of my last blog and since the start of the year we have held a series of events for business to discuss our 10 Opportunities prospectus which sets out a ‘21st Century pitch’ for future investment in key sectors. We have seen lively debate about what our priorities should be and will be publishing a follow-up document shortly.
We are focusing on three opportunities in 2018/19, namely space, creative industries and energy. We are mindful that we need to do more work on the energy piece to join up different areas like sustainable energy, smart systems, energy efficiency and recycling to reduce the costs of doing business, while promoting a clean growth agenda. We are working with Tees Valley LEP on this because they have done a lot of work promoting a low carbon, circular economy in their area.
The 10 Opportunities work will help inform our response to Government calls for LEPs to devise Local Industrial Strategies this summer, and will underpin future bids to the Government’s Shared Prosperity Fund, which will become the main conduit for regional funding post-Brexit. Recent well-attended summits organised by the LEP around housing and construction will also help in this regard.
At a recent meeting of LEP chairs in London with former Local Government Minister Sajid Javid we were told to expect guidelines for the Shared Prosperity Fund to be published in the summer. We were also left in no doubt that Ministers view LEPs as fundamental to delivering their Industrial Strategy.
In March we said goodbye to our Chief Executive Sandra Rothwell who decided to step down and pursue new interests having worked with the LEP since its inception in 2011. We wish Sandra well and place on record our thanks for her hard work and achievements over the years. We are recruiting for a full-time replacement with interviews taking place now.
In May we will welcome five new non-executive directors to our Board and are delighted to have recruited such a talented team. They will replace a number of current LEP directors who are due to step down during the course of 2018, and I would like to thank all our Board members who are going this year for the contribution they have made, their commitment, and their enthusiasm.
Another big piece of work in recent months has been our collaboration with the Government’s Work & Health Unit to tackle the huge problem of disability unemployment. We have been leading on this agenda nationally, looking at how we can work with business to recruit and retain more people with disabilities and long term health conditions, of which there are more than 50,000 in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. That’s 15% of the working population, and above the national average.
We have put together a significant funding bid to test and trial how more engagement with business and local action can achieve the Government’s ambition to increase disability employment. Our hope is to prove how this could be scaled across the UK and we expect to hear if we have been successful in the coming weeks. If we are then this will be a major Cornwall-led project that could blaze a trial for other parts of the UK.
In June we expect to see the launch of the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Investment Fund. This will use a combination of EU, LEP and Government money to offer debt and equity funding (not grants) for small and medium sized businesses to start, grow or innovate across Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. The LEP has worked very hard with the British Business Bank to establish the fund and it will become an important source of finance for businesses unable to access all the funding they require from mainstream sources.
The prize from all this activity is unlocking the economic potential of our region, with better jobs, higher wages and improved productivity. But only if we get the recipe right.
Mark Duddridge is Chair of the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership.