Sunak and Truss told: “Westcountry needs proper levelling-up support”

Business Leaders send message to candidates ahead of Monday’s “closed hustings” in Exeter (second after Leeds) according to Western Morning News.

Tim Jones (who seems to have been a local business leader for ever) said “the current devolution discussions are a fig leaf”.

[Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss have given a full-throated commitment to “levelling up” the North during the BBC hustings

Ms Truss said she was “completely committed” to the levelling up agenda and pledged “urgent action” if she won the race to Number 10. While Mr Sunak gave “an unequivocal massive yes” to the policy.]

Expect dollops of “magic sauce” and  “catchup ketchup” – Owl

Businesses are sending a strong message to the two candidates vying to be the next Prime Minister, urging whoever wins the battle not to forget the South West and to tackle the major issues facing its cities, towns and rural areas.

Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss are due in Exeter on Monday as they try to persuade Tory party members to vote for them in the race to Number 10.

And business leaders are using their visit to highlight the challenges facing the Westcountry and to place the region as prominently in their thinking as the North of England, which is also scrapping for “levelling up” support.

Among the issues spotlighted by South West experts are the housing crisis, transport links, business taxes, and support for key industries such as green and blue technology, agriculture and tourism and hospitality.

Stuart Elford, chief executive of Devon and Plymouth Chamber and chair of British Chambers of Commerce South West, said: “Businesses have faced a tough time over the last few years dealing with Brexit, Covid and exponential rises in costs. Here in the South West we have specific challenges in terms of infrastructure, both physical and digital, as well as the tight labour market exacerbated by the high cost of housing in key areas and the lack of employment land.”

He is calling on whoever becomes the new Prime Minister to do four main things:

  • Economy – help firms manage cost pressures by reducing their tax burden
  • People – reform the training and immigration systems to help firms find the people they need
  • Trade – ensure firms have the support they need to take advantage of global business opportunities
  • Net Zero – incentivise firms to build a green economy and support them through the transition.

Mr Elford said: “The South West has huge potential in the blue/green economy and we ask that the new Prime Minister recognises us as a natural blue/green powerhouse and gives us the resources to maximise our potential. With the right investment we can drive our own levelling up and deliver huge benefits to the regional and national economy while tackling the inequalities in education, employment and health.”

Tim Jones, chairman of the South West Business Council, stressed the region has unique challenges which can only be tackled at a local level. He said: “The current devolution discussions are a fig leaf which will result in retaining strategic policy making in Whitehall. So, what commitment can be made for radical devolution including local tax raising powers – including local institutions/pension funds being able to invest?”

He said SWBC also wants to know what the candidates see as a replacement of previous EU funding for underprivileged areas and asked: “What does levelling up really mean for the South West? The current Shared Prosperity Fund, spread over three years, is not enough to implement a single small road improvement scheme.”

Mr Jones said the Plymouth and South Devon Freeport is “an attractive proposition” which is appealing to investors and to international partners. He added: “Extending this concept to other sectors such as food and drink or marine in local enterprise zones could ignite strong regional growth.”

He said bureaucracy still impacts on many business initiatives and said: “Regional productivity would rise if there was a genuine bonfire of red tape.”

He concluded: “Each region has its own unique proposition. For the South West, food and drink and tourism are high priorities. Emerging is the power of natural capital – the South West will be a national leader in four or five years. A national ‘hot spots’ map with promotion and marketing by the Government internationally would help to replace markets in near Europe lost as a result of Brexit.”.

The next Prime Minister must also tackle the supply crisis in the private rented sector in the South West if home ownership ambitions are to become a reality, according to the National Residential Landlords Association, as new survey data shows that the supply of homes to rent in the region is likely to keep falling over the next year.

Luke Pollard, Labour MP for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport, also put housing high on the priority list, particularly the “second homes crisis”. He wants the successful Tory leadership candidate to look at South West transport links and the region’s “struggling” farmers – and level up too. “The far South West does not get its fair share from the Government,” he said.