In the last few weeks the LEP has hosted a series of workshop events with local businesses and others about how our part of the UK should be responding to the Government’s Industrial Strategy.
The strategy was published in January and is a roadmap to economic growth and job creation across the UK, in a similar way that our own economic plan is a roadmap for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.
The Government is consulting on its draft strategy until 17 April and wants to hear about the skills, research, infrastructure and other things we need in order to address long-term challenges to our economy. It’s big picture stuff but it’s important because this is basically the Government resetting its economic development agenda with the regions in preparation for a post-Brexit world.
And if we are to have any hope of replacing the EU investment that we could have expected post-2020, we need to argue positively about the contribution we can make to the UK’s economy, not merely hold out a ‘begging bowl’.
And that’s hard. The nature of our micro-business economy means we don’t have the critical mass of other regions, so attracting investment – whether public or private – is never easy because we can’t offer the same scale of returns in terms of jobs and growth, at least not initially. That in turn raises value for money questions, especially around public funding.
But what we do have are some world-class assets and some fantastically talented business clusters that are on the cutting edge of what they do. We remain one of the best connected rural regions of Europe thanks to sustained investment in a digital backbone that has helped spawn one of the fastest growing tech clusters in the UK, and underpins much of our burgeoning creative sector.
We have physical assets like Goonhilly Earth Station and Cornwall Airport Newquay that can put us at the forefront of emerging markets for space exploration, satellite applications and big data. Our renewable energy ambitions include energy capture and harnessing wave power through the internationally important Wave Hub and our related academic and supply chain expertise.
As well as wave power, our geography has given us a massive untapped deep geothermal resource that we are keen to exploit, and we are seeing a resurgence in rare metal extraction with private investment starting to flow into projects that aim to extract tin, lithium, copper and tungsten.
We have a dispersed and above average age population that makes us an ideal testbed to pioneer healthtech applications that can improve health and wellbeing and create digital products, services and jobs. That same digital network and expertise will underpin our ambitions to create local energy markets and community energy projects that can add to our security of supply and retain wealth in our region.
We have an agriculture and food sector that is developing agritech applications as diverse as renewable energy generation, dairy and speciality crop production, and using drone technology to monitor animal welfare and environmental stewardship.
Much of this activity is being driven by what is being called the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’, where technology is becoming so deeply embedded in our society that the lines between the physical, digital and biological worlds are being constantly redrawn.
And it is the pace of change that sets this revolution apart from all others. From driverless cars to 3D printing, artificial intelligence to augmented reality, cubesats to the Internet of Things, energy storage to space travel, we are witnessing change at an exponential rate.
The Government wants the UK to be leading that ‘fourth industrial revolution’, and promises to invest in its underpinnings; including science, research and innovation, security of energy supply – especially renewable, superfast broadband networks and security of data.
It wants to see our children engaged, enthused and aware of opportunities from an early age; it wants a focus on places like our small towns that can benefit hugely from incremental changes that tackle the ‘long tail’ of relatively poor productivity. And above all it wants to see collaboration, across sectors, across geographies and across society so that our economic growth is inclusive and not divisive.
As well as our own strategic economic plan, our response to the Industrial Strategy needs to consider all these things, but it also needs to have a laser focus on exactly what we think Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly can do for the future of the UK, and how we will work with others to get there. Government wants things that will deliver transformational growth, joined up initiatives across the UK, and enduring growth.
That’s one reason why we are working with other LEP areas on bidding for a share of £10 million to help establish a spaceport at Cornwall Airport Newquay, supported by Goonhilly, which aims to become the UK’s key gateway to communicating with space. You can read more about that here.
What’s encouraging is that the businesses we have met during our Industrial Strategy workshops clearly ‘get’ all of this. Many are already working collaboratively within and outside Cornwall, and they agree with our focus on our core strengths of digital innovation and advanced engineering as a route to sustained economic growth.
They would like to see more impetus from the public sector about how procurement could be used to stimulate growth and innovation in the supply chain, and they would like to see research and development geared more towards commercial opportunity.
Skills remain a universal issue and given that many commentators believe that talent, more than capital, will be the critical factor of production in the future, we need to ensure that businesses are getting the skills they need.
In the coming weeks the LEP will be distilling all these thoughts into our formal response to the Government’s Industrial Strategy, but with an unerring focus on what we can contribute to UK Plc. The real test of that Industrial Strategy will be whether it works for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, and it will of course be some time before we know that. If you want to feed back on the Industrial Strategy, visit this page of our website.
Meanwhile we continue to focus on growing our economy. We have just secured an additional £18m of Growth Deal funding from Government and although, like a number of other LEP areas, we received significantly less than we bid for, the overall fund was three times over-subscribed. In the coming months we will be able to announce how that money will be invested as we go through due diligence on individual projects.
Several previous rounds of Growth Deal projects are making good progress or have recently started on site, including improvements at Callywith on the edge of Bodmin and Treluswell outside Falmouth, both of which are designed to support local growth.
You can find more news in our latest newsletter.