Boris Johnson urged to do more for the South West

“Tim Jones, chairman of the South West Business Council, said the so-called “New Deal” was “not a game-changer”.

Tim Jones (with 35 years experience with property issues) is one of two old men who Owl described only a couple of weeks ago as having been too influential for too long in the strategic planning of the South West. The other was ex-Cllr Paul Diviani. They represent the historic failure of our local economy to do anything other than bump along the bottom. 

We need new thinking in the “Electorally Safe” South West if we are ever to get the attention of a Boris Johnson with his eyes fixed on the “Red Wall”.

Keith Rossiter www.devonlive.com 

Boris Johnson has announced a stimulus package and a new “opportunity guarantee” to help the economy cope with the aftershock of the coronavirus crisis.

Business leaders in the Westcountry staked a claim to a large chunk of the £900 million set aside for “shovel-ready” local growth projects during 2020/21.

But Tim Jones, chairman of the South West Business Council, said the so-called “New Deal” was “not a game-changer”.

The Heart of the South West (HotSW) local enterprise partnership has sent to Government a £121 million bid to fund a package of 63 “shovel ready” projects that will boost the local economy.

However, the £900 million, if shared equally among the country’s 38 LEPs, would mean Devon and Somerset together would get only about £24 million.

HotSW projects focus on skills for the future, research and development, coastal towns and the visitor economy, and town centre regeneration. They include:

  • A Future Skills Academy at the old Flybe Training Academy at Exeter Airport, to provide an enhanced range of advanced engineering, green jobs and business skills and training.
  • A Digital Innovation Centre.
  • A Plymouth University enterprise zone health campus.
  • The UK’s first National Marine Park centred on Plymouth Sound.
  • A ‘Grow Out’ building at Exeter Science Park.
  • Work hubs proposed across the region and a high tech centre at South Devon College in Torbay.

If all 63 were funded, that would unlock at least another £171 million of investment and create more than 3,000 jobs.

Karl Tucker, chair of the Heart of the South West LEP, said: “Our £121 million bid to Government will help the national campaign to build back better. We’ve selected our list based on how much these projects can deliver in economic, social and environmental benefits in the short and long term.

“This is just the start of our Route Map to Recovery. We call on Government to back this and back the Great South West as part of its regional levelling up agenda.”

Mr Jones, however, questioned how much of the “levelling up” would be delivered south of the M4 corridor.

“We are not going to be impressed if all of this is just a repeat of previous highways schemes,” he said.

“We’re looking for projects that will have an instant impact on the economy.”

He said the value of high-speed broadband during the lockdown had shown that there was more to connectivity than roads.

Kim Conchie, chief executive of Cornwall Chamber of Commerce, gave a “cautious welcome”.

He said: “From a Cornwall point of view we would like to know exactly how much and on what projects it will be spent.

“We will be scrutinising it very carefully to make sure it is not packaging up previously announced and agreed infrastructure projects in a ‘new deal’ package.

“For example, the £100 million that has been promised to the Treliske hospital extension, the A30 extension, the St Austell link road, the stadium for Cornwall and the town deals, we hope will be in separate pots as they have already been approved. We would also like to see a complete rethink of the Cornwall bus network.

“The train now runs every half an hour from Plymouth to Penzance and back as a shuttle, and what we would like to see is a fleet of buses linking up with the stations on the main line to enable people to get to and from work and interviews, really creating social mobility around the spine of the train network.”

Luke Pollard, Labour MP for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport, said: “With more people in Plymouth losing their jobs every single day we need a proper plan for protecting and creating jobs.

“I fear Plymouth is facing an unemployment crisis we have not seen since the 1980s. That is why I want next week’s Budget to focus on three things: jobs, jobs, jobs.

“The South West does not get our fair share of funding and a few flagship projects may attract headlines but do not make up for a decade of cuts and unfairness.

“I want to see a long-term plan for investing in our region’s infrastructure from road and rail to homes and hospitals and meaningful investment to deliver it.

“This Government is better at headlines than delivery and our country cannot afford more dither and delay and certainly not more cuts.”

Mr Johnson’s speech, at a technical college in Dudley in the West Midlands, was watched by an audience of just 24 people.

The Budget in March had already planned for £640 billion of spending over five years. Mr Johnson set out plans to speed up £5 billion of that including:

  • £1.5 billion this year for hospital maintenance.
  • £100 million on 29 road projects.
  • More than £1 billion over 10 years for a schools rebuilding programme.
  • £560 million for repairs to schools and £200 million for FE colleges.
  • £142 million for digital upgrades and maintenance for courts.
  • £83 million for prisons and youth offender facilities and £60 million for temporary prison places.
  • £900 million for a range of local growth projects in England.
  • £96 million of investment in town centres and high streets.
  • £10 million will go to research and development to scale up manufacturing of the latest technology in batteries, motors, electronics and fuel cells and support “gigafactories” to mass produce components.
  • Some 75,000 acres of trees will be planted every year by 2025.
  • A £40 million green recovery challenge fund will help halt biodiversity loss and tackle climate change through local conservation projects, creating up to 5,000 jobs.
  • A £100 million fund will research technology to capture CO2 emissions.
  • From September, new regulations will make it easier for buildings in town centres to change use without planning permission and create new homes from the regeneration of vacant and redundant shops and other buildings.
  • A fast-track approval process will make it easier for property owners to extend upwards.

The Prime Minister acknowledged that jobs which existed at the start of the pandemic may be lost for ever but said the new guarantee would ensure placements or apprenticeships for young people.

He promised his response would not be a return to the austerity that followed the financial crisis of 2008.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak will set out a plan to support the economy through the first phase of the recovery next week, Mr Johnson said.

John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK, called it “a Poundland deal” rather than a Rooseveltian New Deal. He called for support for cleaner, better transport, warmer homes and renewable energy.

And Friends of the Earth said the Prime Minister must put the environment at the heart of his economic recovery plans.

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