New research: Levelling up the South West

The right wing think tank “Onward” publishes new research.

It shows that Devon and Cornall are among the areas within the region that need the greatest support (low wages, part time work, brain drain, poor connectivity).

But, according to the Western Morning News (which backs “The Great South West”), business leaders and politicians insisted yesterday that the challenges can be met providing Government makes the right investments.

So that’s all right then – pass the Catchup Ketchup! – Owl

This morning we publish Levelling up the South West. The new research note, backed by a group of MPs from the South West of England, examines the relative performance of the South West economy against a number of indicators, covering earnings, employment, skills, local industries, and connectivity.

Read the research

On many metrics, the South West performs around average among UK regions, but this hides the notable deprivation in certain parts of the region, especially in pockets of Devon and Cornwall.

Much of the work in the South West is part time, and those below the median are paid poorly compared to their counterparts in the rest of the United Kingdom.

  • Almost a quarter (23.2%) of 25-49 year-olds work part-time, compared to a fifth (19.5%) across the UK. Almost every constituency (90%) has part-time employment above the UK average, the highest of any region.
  • The bottom 60% of part-time workers earn less than their counterparts in any other region. The bottom tenth earn 13% less than the bottom tenth nationally.

This is paired with a skills shortage among young people, a ‘brain drain’ as graduates leave for jobs elsewhere, and a greater reliance on less productive, lower-paying sectors.

  • Devon is particularly short on highly-qualified young people. Just 24% of 20-29 year-olds have a degree, the fourth lowest of any other NUTS2 sub-region.
  • Devon has twice the national share of students as its share of degree-educated young people, indicating a severe ‘brain drain’ as graduates leave the county for opportunities elsewhere.
  • Cornwall and Devon are the top 2 regions for employment in retail and accommodation and food, but the median wage in these sectors is 26% and 31% less than average, respectively.

Unemployment rates have fallen much slower than other regions since the Great Recession.

  • The South West has experienced the slowest decline in unemployment since the post-recession peak in 2011. Unemployment fell from 6.1% in 2011 to 3.2% in 2019.
  • Contrast the South West’s post-recession recovery with Northern Ireland, where unemployment fell from 7.4% to 2.6% over the same period.

Connectivity is poor both in terms of transport and digital infrastructure.

  • In Cornwall and Devon, the number of jobs reachable within 60 minutes by car is two times below the UK median, and five times below the median for jobs available within 90 minutes.
  • The South West has almost twice the proportion of homes below the broadband universal service obligation as the national average (4.2% compared to 2.5%). In West Devon, 12.4% are below the USO, the eighth worst in the country.

Selaine Saxby, Conservative MP for North Devon, said:

“Onward’s findings are a stark insight of the need to level up across the country, not just in the north but here in the south west too, where we may have affluent areas, but we also have significant pockets of deprivation in places like Ilfracombe and Barnstaple in North Devon.

“We live in a beautiful part of the country, a desirable place to live, but it is not sustainable, for example, that our brightest graduates move elsewhere, seeking opportunities in better connected parts of the UK with stronger infrastructure, depriving local businesses of their talent and their ability to make a difference.

“The story of the South West is one of complex inequality that is not easily reflected in traditional interregional figures, particularly around the coast. I hope that the Government will take these findings seriously, as if it is truly to make a difference and level up the country as a whole, the south west cannot be ignored, and indeed deserves a special focus in its own right given the unique situation within which it finds itself.

“I am immensely grateful to Onward for their diligent work, research, and analysis, which goes deep into the intraregional figures and equality, and teases out the true picture, laying bare the reality of the situation on the ground.”

Cherilyn Mackrory, Conservative MP for Truro and Falmouth, said:

“I welcome this report by Onward which clearly shows why it is so important that the South West is not left behind by the Government’s ambitious levelling up agenda. The South West including the beautiful part of Cornwall which I represent faces a unique set of challenges due to a variety of factors, historical, geographical and economical. With our leaving the EU we now have a chance to address these issues and bring about real positive change that the South West needs.”

“This report highlights the challenges, both in jobs and skills as well as digital and physical connectivity that our region faces. It is for the Government to take notice and deliver on the change we need to ensure that not only are we not left behind, but instead prioritised and put at the forefront of this critical levelling up agenda in the future.”

John Penrose, Conservative MP for Weston-super-Mare, said:

“By definition, levelling up will need a different mix of reforms and improvements for each part of the country, because we’re all starting with a different mix of problems. So Onward’s work is essential for putting flesh on the policy bones, to show what it will mean in detail for the South West.”