The South West Growth Charter – and why Cornwall needs to prepare for another battle

CornishStuff Editorial

 

The “Back the South West” campaign has shown a clear, unified business voice outlining a vision for the economic future of Cornwall, Devon and Somerset. The campaign has captured imaginations across our region and is a positive initiative from business, with strong support from local media

Gary Streeter MP

What is the South west Growth Charter?  Why do we need to be so worried about it?

You’ve probably heard of the Northern Powerhouse, or the other one now ‘The Midlands Engine’ – concepts of growing the economy region by region. The government has said to the regions that ‘if you want one of these, we’ll support you’.

So some ‘South West business people’ have gathered together to tell the government that they want one here. They’re even seeking your ideas of what to call it – ‘The South West Engine House’ anyone?

The one page strategy – more of a concept at this stage than a whole plan – was launched about a month ago now, infamously by Gov minister Savid Javid when he said that the Cornish and others needed to get behind it the SW region and ‘change their attitude’.

The day after that, south west Devon MP Gary Streeter secured a phoney ‘debate’ in Parliament where all the MPs took it in turns to say what a wonderful idea it is.

After that the ‘south west’ MPs gathered outside 10 Downing Street to have their photo taken. Cornwall MPs Sheryll Murray, Derek Thomas, Steve Double & Scott Mann are all there.derek-10

 

But it isn’t a wonderful idea. Not for Cornwall.

Yes, good intentions are in there like rail infrastructure, business co-operation etc. But since the last time regionalism was touted about 10 years ago (remember John  Prescott’s north east referendum?) Cornwall has intentionally and deliberately defined a Cornwall-only system of governance – we managed to separate the LEP, the ‘Devolution deal for Cornwall’, the ITI board and the EU money etc etc – all this is now at stake in Gary Streeter’s plans.

“The invented South west ‘regional identity’ is a failed policy from the 1960s and before. It is only when Cornwall was uncoupled from this artificial south west entity that Cornwall’s economy began to climb out of stagnation on the back of EU funding and a Cornwall focus for Westminster matched funding”

Loveday Jenkin , MK

 

So in the next week or two Cornish Stuff will be bringing you a series of articles as a reaction to the launch of the “South West Growth Charter”. And we’d like to know your views too.

These regional powerhouses are based around the idea of a region being built around one big city, eg in this case Exeter or Plymouth.

In a statement released at the time Derek Thomas spoke of why he is supporting the plan:

“The charter outlines a new Government partnership with the South West … asks the Government to focus on South West growth and produce a funding strategy which will enable the region to move away from its current reliance on grant funding to more innovative funding solutions.

Mr Thomas said he was fully behind the charter which he feels can have a major and positive impact for his West Cornwall constituency. ‘My priority is to ensure that West Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly have a strong economy and I believe that this charter will support that,” he said. ‘Among other things, it is asking the Government to back a 20-year plan for investment in the rail network and also to confirm its commitment to road improvement works on the A30, A303 and A38. The Charter also sets out an ambition to deliver ultra-fast South West 5G mobile, fibre and wireless broadband through to 90% of the population by 2030. These are vital as unless we improve the transport infrastructure, West Cornwall will never realise its full economic potential.”

To the government’s ears it sounds like a winner –  all the region’s MPs are for it, south west business groups are for it, the media is behind it…. we’re all united apparently in wanting this, from Land’s End to Somerset.

According to pressure group Kernow Matters To Us “Cornish Politicians may pay lip service to Cornish identity but inevitably do as they are told when it comes to the crunch however much they protest otherwise

The so-called devolution package for Cornwall is a cruel farce as is protected minority status as illustrated by the increasingly relentless push to force the SW region on Cornwall against the will of the majority of Cornish people”

One of the most worrying aspects if this South West region gains ground is the level of funding that would be then available to Cornwall, if as is assumed, the governors of Cornwall put a spanner in the works if, not wanting their last 10 years work washed down the drain, they vehemently oppose the plan. The guidance for future funding in the Brexit fog is that any projects will need to “fit into to Government priorities”. And if we don’t fit into their clever plan?

Another worrying addition is the influence of large corporations who are bankrolling and setting the agenda for the South West project. The major  players are Pennon Group (South West Water), WMN group (C&DM, Local world etc)  and the privately financed Devon and Cornwall Business Council (DCBC). All these groups have clear financial gain to be made by trying to erode Cornwall as an entity and subsume it into an invented south west regional identity.

We have asked Cornwall’s political and business leaders to give us their views so they can share them with you. We hope they join the debate…

But for now, we’ll leave with extracts from Gary Streeter MP for South West Devon from the day the South West Growth Charter was launched in Parliament (Hansard):

“The business community in the south-west is serious about introducing a framework for growth and economic prosperity in our important and much-loved region, which is what we are here to debate today.

We do not come to the Government with a begging bowl; we come to say that this is what the south-west business community plans to do for our region. The charter is not the brainchild of local authorities, politicians or quangos; it is the voice of business expressing its positive commitment to our region and saying to Whitehall, “This is what we will do. Now, Government, please do the part that only Governments can really do, namely infrastructure. Give us the tools to do the job.”

First, how do we define the south-west for the purpose of this debate? The Government usually describe the south-west as the seven counties from Land’s End to Gloucester, including Bristol and Stonehenge—a wide and disparate area. Not so today: the south-west for the purpose of this debate, the summit and the charter is primarily Cornwall, of course including the Isles of Scilly—I would not want to leave them out—Devon and most of Somerset, excluding the unitary authorities to the north. In other words, we are discussing the territory of the two local enterprise partnership regions of Cornwall and Isles of Scilly and the Heart of the South West.

The charter we are presenting the Government today builds on a growth summit held at the University of Exeter on Friday 21 October 2016. The summit was the initiative of one of the largest private-sector employers in our region, Pennon Group—the owner of South West Water, Bournemouth Water and Viridor—in partnership with the Western Morning News, a great champion of our region. The summit brought together the main economic interests of the south-west, alongside many of the region’s Members of Parliament

The south-west growth charter calls for a new partnership between the south-west and central Government to achieve the goals agreed at the summit, which was attended by more than 200 people, more than 40 businesses, the CBI, the region’s two local enterprise partnerships, academic institutions and 14 local authorities from across the region. The summit was addressed by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, who made an excellent speech that I know the Minister will replicate today. The Minister is a champion for progress, growth and prosperity. Indeed, he oozes them from every pore.

What is more, the region has not always made itself heard with a clear, unified voice at Westminster, but we are open for business. We are looking for growth, and we want to build on the success of the northern powerhouse and the midlands engine. Today, we are setting out a positive vision for the south-west region.

The summit and the wider “Back the South West” campaign have shown a clear, unified business voice outlining a vision for the economic future of Cornwall, Devon and Somerset. The campaign has captured imaginations across our region and is a positive initiative from business, with strong support from local media. I always find that quoting local newspapers is a good way of getting in the local newspapers, and the front page of the Western Morning News on 3 October 2016 said:

“Clean beaches, sparkling seas and fresh air. The South West has it all. But while the natural beauty of the region is incomparable, its economy too often lags behind…given the tools, the South West can really fly”.

That is what this debate is all about.

A key part of the “Back the South West” campaign has been about creating a south-west narrative and speaking passionately at national level about why the south-west region is a wonderful place to live, work and do business. We are all immensely proud of our region, but we face challenges, particularly in light of the forthcoming Brexit. The local enterprise partnerships in our region are already showing how well they can work together to address those challenges and take opportunities”

swgc
The one page document

 

 

Torture Yourself by reading the entire debate here (Hansard)

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