Britain’s biggest business organisation has demanded an end to the “inequalities” which hold back the Westcountry when the nation rebounds from the coronavirus crisis.
The CBI echoes calls made by the Back the Great South West campaign – supported by CornwallLive, DevonLive, PlymouthLive and our print sister titles including the Western Morning News – when it calls today for targeted action to boost skills and develop physical and digital infrastructure in the Westcountry.
The campaign has been supported by the Local Enterprises Partnerships, local authority leaders and MPs across the South West.
The CBI warns that without investment there are grave risks that disparities across the regions of Britain could widen, damaging the recovery and the long-promised levelling up of those parts of the country left behind.
In its report, Reviving Regions, the CBI says: “For the South West, improvements to infrastructure – ranging from enhanced digital connectivity to rail and road projects such as long-awaited upgrades to the A303, M5 and M4 – have the potential to be transformational.”
Last week the Department for Transport gave the go-ahead for a crucial part of the A303 upgrades when it backed major improvements to ease the bottleneck around Stonehenge.
South West business leader Tim Jones said that project alone could give the South West region a lift worth around £4bn once it comes on stream.
The CBI says targeted action to boost skills and develop physical and digital infrastructure is vital if the South West is to attract the inward investment needed to build back better from the economic ravages of coronavirus.
The business organisation’s paper, sponsored by Lloyds Banking Group, highlights long-standing regional inequalities across England which inhibit growth, opportunity and productivity.
It says the disparities in economic performance are large, both across England and within regions, and warns they are at risk of widening further if Government levelling-up ambitions falter in the wake of Covid-19.
The paper calls for a long-term strategic vision to guide the country through a vital post-Covid recovery and towards long-term prosperity.
For the South West, improvements to infrastructure – ranging from enhanced digital connectivity to rail and road projects such as long-awaited upgrades to the A303, M5 and M4 – have the potential to be transformational, the CBI predicts.
Increased spending on training and retraining is another regional priority. The pandemic has undermined the South West’s traditionally-strong levels of employment, and large numbers of workers, especially in hospitality and related tourism sectors, remain furloughed.
The CBI report says equipping them with new skills can protect individual livelihoods and support communities. It adds that “action on skills is essential in a region containing some of England’s areas of lowest productivity.” And it says underpinning all of this is a need to empower the South West’s local and regional leaders. They must be able to “create a culture where businesses can operate, invest and grow with confidence.”
The report’s recommendations include:
- Building vibrant local labour markets
- Transforming local infrastructure to facilitate new ways of working
- Inspiring world-class, innovative businesses to invest in the regions
- Intervening to close the gap in regional research and development funding
Susan Davy, the chief executive of one of the South West’s biggest business, South West Water owner Pennon, is also the CBI South West chair. She welcomed the report.
“The South West is a region with many examples of excellence, ranging from thriving cities like Bristol and Exeter to outstanding strength in sectors like advanced engineering, digital innovation and green industries,” she said.
“Yet these successes are not spread evenly, even within the region. Skills gaps and pockets of low productivity restrict opportunity and prosperity in parts of the South West, and challenges around connectivity – both physical and digital – have seen slow progress.
“Action on these issues is vital if the region is to enjoy a fair and sustainable recovery. We must attract the investment needed to enable South West businesses to enjoy success not just regionally or nationally, but globally too.”
The CBI believes the actions outlined can mitigate the regional impact of the pandemic as the nation rebuilds.