On Wednesday I had the privilege of calling and leading a Westminster Hall Debate on Economic Growth in the South West. This provided a great opportunity to rally the South West contingent to the call of promoting sustainable economic growth in our region. During the debate around a dozen members contributed. Except for a lively exchange about the correct administration of jam and cream on a scone with our Cornish neighbours, we stood united as a region!
In terms of food, landscape, educational institutions and local talent we have much to be proud of as a region. We have huge natural capital, with the South West seeing the most visitors in the UK outside of London (six million per year). But what was clear in the debate was that there is more to our part of that “green and pleasant land” than a stunning coastline.
We have impressive employers and investors in our region such as Princess Yachts and Pennon who can see the potential in our communities. We are well catered for in the realm of the academy with the outstanding universities of Plymouth, Marjon and Exeter helping our young people develop. We have a thriving defence and marine engineering sector. We have some of the most fertile agricultural land in the UK. The world loves to buy our locally designed and constructedproducts. In 2017, the Department for International Tradenoted that the South West experienced the largest percentage rise in exporting businesses across the UK. We are open for business!
In recent years we have had support from Westminster. The dualling of the A303 has begun, incremental improvements to the A30 and now money invested in the North Devon Link road. We have seen the establishment of the Transforming Cities Fund. This is positive but we need more investment in our regional infrastructure.
We need increased road capacity to what lies beyond our peninsula, secure and resilient rail links and to be at the forefront of connectivity in the internet age. We all vividlyrecall the train tracks being torn apart by the elements at Dawlish five years ago this week. Some work has been done but we await the major announcement on long term resilience at Dawlish, now scheduled for next week. At last.
This week’s debate was useful in flagging up again the very specific asks from this region: infrastructure, infrastructure, infrastructure. For this wonderful region, 2019 must be the year of delivery.