Government urged to recognise the Great South West

Is this formal recognition that the Local Enterprise Partnerships idea has failed?

The questions Owl has are these: How is “The Great South West” and its Chairman Steve Hindley accountable to us, the people who live here? Who gets to choose the “Great Leader” of the “Great South West”? How is what they do, and plan to do, on our behalves scrutinised?

Without satisfactory answers to these questions wouldn’t we be in danger of jumping out of the frying pan into the fire?

As owl has said before (eg here and here) these initiatives always seem to involve the same business men (not women) with a background in property or construction, who hop from one quango to another, without achieving any positive change for the region.

Owl is surprised that so many are prepared to jump so unquestioningly on this band wagon.

The government is being urged to move swiftly to recognise the four counties of the far South West as a region in their own right.

Veteran Devon MP Sir Gary Streeter has written to the Prime Minister, with the backing for MPs from across Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, Devon, Somerset and Dorset.

His letter is prompted by the news that the Government intends to delay any decision until after the forthcoming White Paper on Devolution.

Leaders of the Great South West campaign met the Prime Minister in Downing Street in November last year. They explained the background to their campaign to win recognition for the four counties as a bloc.

Sir Gary said the campaign was supported by the three local enterprise partnerships, all local authorities and all MPs in the region.

“Since 2016, an alliance of all stakeholders behind this project has been painstakingly put in place.” Sir Gary said. This included the Western Morning News, one of our sister print titles.

His letter to the Prime Minister, copied to the Chancellor, the Communities Secretary and the Chief Whip, asks for recognition of the Great South West region now and not after the White Paper on devolution has run its course. Sir Gary said that could result in a delay of up to 18 months.

All the MPs from across the region have given their support, though Sir Gary did not ask Ministers or shadow Ministers to endorse the letter.

“We feel we have waited long enough,” Sir Gary said. “We need this now so we can speak coherently to the Government, and the Government can speak to us.

“I think our region is going to be one of the hardest hit economically by the pandemic, and it will be significant to have a framework for the Government to talk to.

“It has taken a long time to put together this alliance of LEPs, local authorities and business communities. We need to see some success for this campaign to ensure that we keep the alliance together.”

The past couple of years has seen the rise of regional blocs such as the Northern Powerhouse and the Midlands Engine.

“The Government very much likes strategic collaboration and devolution,” Sir Gary said. “We are pushing at an open door.”

In his letter, Sir Gary said the Great South West campaign had put together a “compelling prospectus for growth” in its Securing our Future document. That was launched and submitted before the last election.

“It strongly supports the government’s levelling up agenda by delivering a massive £45 billion boost to the regional economy and creating 190,000 new jobs by 2035,” Sir Gary writes.

“We were pleased to learn that at the Downing Street meeting in November you gave your whole-hearted support to this project.”

He said that Steve Hindley, chair of the Great South West steering group, wrote recently to the Communities Secretary to reiterate the urgency of granting the regional recognition and seedcorn funding needed, “not least to help us recover from the impact of Covid-19”.

He added: “It was a huge disappointment for us to learn last week that the government is not proposing to grant us recognition at this time, but intends to delay any decision until after the forthcoming White Paper on Devolution has been issued and consulted upon, which could easily result in a delay of possibly a year or more.

“There is a strong feeling in our region that other regional groupings have been recognised and supported and that once again, the South West is being short-changed.

“We are writing to draw to your personal attention to the strength of feeling across the region about this matter, and to urge government to release the full potential of the Great South West and the many benefits to our constituents by granting recognition immediately – even if this has to be fine-tuned once the White Paper and subsequent legislation has taken place.”

One thought on “Government urged to recognise the Great South West

  1. Selaine Saxby Conservative, North Devon 4:28 pm, 9th July 2020
    I thank the Ministry for everything it has done during the pandemic to support so many businesses and individuals in our communities. My constituency has a huge number of small businesses, and the district council has now paid out over £41 million to 3,638 businesses, which is a huge undertaking. North Devon boasts a stunning coastline and beautiful countryside, served by market towns whose high streets, like so many, have been transformed by the pandemic. Market towns such as Barnstaple rely on those working in town to pop out at lunchtime for a sandwich or a quick bit of retail therapy. The move for so many to work from home, so many businesses remaining closed and tourists not being back in their normal numbers has meant that, while our shops are open, they are seeing less than 50% of the customers and takings they would expect at this time.

    Barnstaple is currently working on its revised submission to the future high streets fund, which is another great initiative from the Ministry. A huge amount of work has gone into this locally from our economic development team in North Devon. I thank Sarah-Jane Mackenzie-Shapland, Dominie Dunbrook and the whole team led by Michael Titchford. However, in this fund application, Barnstaple, which has a population of just 31,000, is up against major towns—indeed, one could describe them as small cities—with populations that far exceed Barnstaple’s, and their council resources swamp those of my hard-working district council team.

    If Barnstaple is not successful, having already missed out on the towns fund because the structure of the town centre management does not match the required business improvement district, I fear that there will be no funding and our high street will continue with the rapid decline it has seen throughout this pandemic.

    Moreover, if Barnstaple cannot secure funding, as the largest town in my constituency, what hope is there for Ilfracombe, the next largest, with a population of just 11,000, and listed as one of the 40 most deprived English seaside towns in the recent Radius Data Exchange report, “Turning the tide: seaside regeneration”? The report highlights the decades of underinvestment in towns like Ilfracombe, and how solutions are available. However, without some funding to help smaller market and coastal towns, our levelling-up agenda will only stretch to major urban conurbations.

    The situation is further exacerbated in areas like mine, where my district council is small and one of multiple layers of local decision making. This can make applying for and then implementing schemes designed to assist near-impossible, given the limited local resource combined with multiple layers of local government, often with their own competing projects and visions. Indeed, the issues that I highlight are replicated across the south-west peninsula. To enable all of them to succeed, the entire region needs further consideration. We have repeatedly requested to become the “great south-west” and recognise Devon, Cornwall, Dorset and Somerset as a single region so that we can work at a much greater scale in future.

    Liz Pole,


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