View of the South West from influential Northern think-tank – “challenging”

Owls’ previous post  mentioned the IPPR ( Institute for Public Policy Research ) study on devolution. This is their view of the South West.

They use the Nomenclature of Territorial Units for Statistics (NUTS) definitions of regions.  In this definition the South West includes, not just the area of the Great South West, but Gloucestershire, Bristol, Bath, Swindon and Wiltshire.  

(page 53)

The South West is perhaps the more challenging part of England to group together at scale. Cornwall has a very strong regional identity which is often overlooked by policymakers, and it is crucial that, in devolving power out of Westminster, this sense of identity is duly respected. That said, there is an economic case for grouping the South West together, due to the economy of scale and the resilience that comes with an area that is more socially and economically diverse.

Taken as a whole region, the South West would be home to 5.6 million people. With annual GVA of £139 billion, it would be the smallest English region, but it would have an economy twice the size of Wales. This region would unite the high-productivity city of Bristol, its affluent commuter belt, high-tech clusters, and universities with the rural Devon and Cornwall, with their natural assets and tourism economy. There are significant disparities in income and wealth between Cornwall and Gloucestershire for example; and there is currently a great deal of geographical fragmentation too. Bristol has been working closely with Cardiff recently in the Western Gateway project and such cooperation should be encouraged rather than impeded by any new governance structure in England.

However, all these factors could be better addressed by more cooperation within this region. The region could work at scale to reduce economic disparities and to enable better connectivity, and could also use devolved power to forge stronger partnerships across the Severn estuary. Given the strong economic case for working at a regional tier, this appears to be the best starting point for this part of England. However, economic arguments can only take policy so far, and identity must also be respected. The area may therefore benefit from a bespoke governance solution and more powers devolved to Cornwall than to subregional authorities elsewhere. 

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