This is the latest concerted publicity push by those behind the “Great South West”. This enterprise is headed by Steve Hindley, Chairman of Midas property services group and backed by, amongst others, The Western Morning News and Pennon, owner of South West Water.
The Great South West is yet another unelected, unaccountable, organisation pitching for a £2M set-up fund to design our future. Owl has previously described it as the LEP for LEPs (Local Enterprise Partnership). It covers the four counties in the peninsular: Somerset, Dorset, Devon and Cornwall and their respective LEPs.
It makes sense to consider strategic infrastructure investment decisions across the peninsular as a whole. The LEPs are not the right bodies to replace the regional development agencies. What worries Owl is that the Great South West looks (and sounds below) as if it sees itself as a contender for a devolved Combined Authority.
Owl also notes that plenty of recovery plans are being made but asks the question: do we yet know what the impact of covid-19 on our economy will be? The new normal will be different to “Build,build,build”. Are they consulting with us or our elected leaders?
“Happily consult my diary” from the PM sounds like a maybe, nothing definite. (East Devon is currently having a master class on how, even if your MP has the PM’s private email and telephone number, no great favours for the South West can be expected.)
HANNAH FINCH, Western Morning News
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has promised to ‘consult his diary’ on discussions to ‘turbo-charge’ the economy of the South West. Johnson said that he shares the vision of a prosperous Great South West during Wednesday’s PMQs.
The prominent mention follows a visit by South West MPs to Downing Street in November 2019 where Johnson pledged to Back The Great South West. Now, business and economic leaders are calling from less talk and more action.
Susan Davy, Chief Executive of Pennon Group – which has been spearheading the Back the Great South West campaign, said: “This latest recognition of the Great South West by the Prime Minister is welcome but we need firm Government commitments to the region. In line with the ‘build back better’ agenda there is a clear opportunity for the South West to become a leader in clean, environmentally sustainable growth. Businesses in the region ourselves included – will continue to help drive this forward but better digital and transport connectivity is badly needed.
“We heard similar positive words from Mr Johnson at 10 Downing Street back in November and, while we welcome further dialogue on the issue, it is time the region was given the support it deserves.”
The Prime Minister was responding to a question by Totnes conservative MP Antony Mangnall, who asked: “The Prime Minister is rightly levelling up across the country, giving that issue both barrels, but I know that the South West has often been overlooked. Will he reassure this House and Members from across the South West that we will invest in digital and transport infrastructure, we will turbocharge opportunity and we will provide the growth that they need in the South West? To that effect, will he meet a delegation from the South West to discuss the opportunities before us?”
The Prime Minister cited investment in schools at West Alvington Church of England Academy and Eden Park Primary and Nursery School, before adding: “As for his request [to meet a delegation], I will happily consult my diary.”
The Great South West has been asking for a £2million push to set up the Great South West partnership – a region-wide organisation to rival the Midlands Engine and Northern Powerhouse. It predicts that the funding could drive a £45billion uplift to the economy with green energy at its heart. The need for the funding alongside more government infrastructure spend will be top of discussions. Gary Streeter MP, chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group tasked with the Great South West agenda, welcomed further talks.
He said: “South West MPs would be delighted to take a delegation from the Great South West board to see the PM to discuss this vital issue
He added that any meeting would likely be after the White Paper on Devolution is published – due before the end of the year and setting out a placed-based regional strategy for the levelling up of regional prosperity. Steve Hindley, Chairman of the Great South West Steering Group said: “I’m delighted to hear the Prime Minister yet again mention the Great South West with enthusiasm. When we met with him last year at Number 10, he gave assurance that the south west could expect more investment in infrastructure; and indicated that we needed to be more ambitious in our asks for the set up funding for the Great South West partnership. £2million is what we need initially to drive a £45 billion uplift.
“We look forward to working with our partners in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly and Dorset LEPs, the Local Authorities, our business community – including the Western Morning News which has been a vocal and valuable advocate – and indeed our wider south west stakeholders in the Western Gateway which is our neighbouring “powerhouse economy” and the latest to get formal recognition and funding from Government. We firmly believe that now more than ever is the time to Level Up.”
The Heart of the South West is soon to publish its Building Back Better plan – setting out opportunities to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic. Earlier this year, just before lockdown hit, Heart of the South West and LEPs in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly and Dorset published its Great South West prospectus, “Securing our Future’:
Karl Tucker, Chairman of the Heart of the South West LEP said: “Our area has the potential to create a low carbon economy based on clean and inclusive growth.
“The opportunities and aspirations of the Heart of the South West dovetail with those of the wider region; and together we can build back an economy that’s not only better in terms of prosperity, but environmentally too.”