Responding to Government’s Industrial Strategy

The Government’s Industrial Strategy is an opportunity to align national and regional priorities, says LEP chief executive Sandra Rothwell


The launch of the Government’s Industrial Strategy consultation paper is a clear signal that the approach to economic growth is changing, and the catalyst is Brexit.

In a little over two years’ time, we expect that Britain will have left the European Union.  The Industrial Strategy is designed to prepare us for the years ahead by putting in place a long-term plan for productivity-led economic growth.

As you will have heard the Government reiterate, the goal is an economy that works for everyone, with high wages, high skills and high productivity – creating the conditions for competitive, world-leading businesses right across the UK.

To achieve this the Prime Minister has signalled a new approach for the Government. Rather than stepping back and letting business just get on with the job, she wants Government to play a more active role that backs business to deliver jobs, growth and prosperity.

By creating a long-term framework for investment, the Industrial Strategy is partly filling a space that will be created after the disappearance of the  interventionist EU-backed policies such as ‘Convergence’ that underpinned the EU-funded regeneration programmes that have helped drive the economy of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly for more than 20 years.

And just like our responses to EU priorities like support for business, skills and infrastructure have shaped those investment programmes for over two decades, our job now is to interpret the Industrial Strategy in ways that can help our economy here in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly while contributing to the greater good of UK Plc.

The good news is that you have already told us much of what we need and want to do, and we have sought to underpin this with a strong economic analysis and evidence base. The Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Strategic Economic Plan clearly sets out our priorities to 2030, in much the same way as the Industrial Strategy sets out priorities for the nation.

And there is a healthy crossover between the two. The Industrial Strategy is built on what the Government is calling 10 ‘pillars’:

  • Investing in science, research and innovation
  • Developing skills
  • Upgrading infrastructure
  • Supporting businesses to start and grow
  • Improving procurement
  • Encouraging trade and inward investment
  • Delivering affordable energy and clean growth
  • Cultivating world-leading sectors
  • Driving growth across the whole country
  • Creating the right institutions to bring together sectors and places

Many of these pillars are a perfect fit with our region’s Strategic Economic Plan. It focuses on two broad clusters of advanced engineering (including agritech, aerospace, spacetech, marinetech and renewable energy), and digital innovation (including creativetech, low carbon living, and healthtech).

This focus on clusters is underpinned by nationally significant assets. These include Goonhilly Earth Station, the Wave Hub and Fabtest marine energy testing zones, a future-proof broadband network that is already gearing up to deliver ultrafast speeds, and Cornwall Airport Newquay, proposed home for a national centre for future flight technologies, including England’s first Spaceport. We also have deep geothermal energy potential, abundant wind and solar resources and developing home-grown innovation around energy storage.

As well as physical and natural assets, we have knowledge assets through our academic and vocational strengths, and business assets in the form of a high proportion of innovative small businesses that can exploit new markets and new market opportunities.

Our Devolution Deal is another important tool and has given us greater control over business support and skills activities. This includes freedom to pursue a skills agenda which adds the arts and creativity to the traditional STEM subjects of science, technology, engineering and maths: STEAM to drive innovation and entrepreneurialism in our economy.

In addition to these strengths we must also recognise our weaknesses, including poor wages, skills and low productivity.

The Industrial Strategy targets both strengths and weaknesses. It proposes ‘sector deals’ to support industries that can work together and it has appointed sector champions, including those for industrial digitalisation and creative industries, both key growth areas in our economy.

To succeed we need to look outward and we need to collaborate, with other regions, with business, education and with Government. It’s not all about the money, it’s about aligning interests, and partnership is key.

We are already doing this with space and aerospace, working with LEPs in Leicestershire and Oxford. The South West Satellite Applications Centre of Excellence at Goonhilly includes our leading universities and the Met Office, collaborating on projects that range from maritime logistics to cyber security. We are also collaborating on the strength that the South West area gives us in terms of a louder voice for Government investment, as well as a better understanding of business relationships and supply chains across the South West.

Wave Hub, now under the ownership of Cornwall Council, is dealing with wave energy developers around the world. And the Isles of Scilly are partnering with Hitachi to look at innovative energy solutions including smart grid and storage technologies.

These are all growth areas for our economy which also have national significance in delivering the Government’s Industrial Strategy.

The Government is now inviting businesses, LEPs, education providers, local authorities and others to feed back their thoughts and ideas.  The on-line consultation can be found here for those who want to respond directly.

LEPs have also been asked to work directly with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on shaping the strategy.  We will soon publish details about how people can get involved, including workshops with the business community.

Our job is to feed back to Government on how we can work together to identify more opportunities and push forward common growth agendas. It’s also about identifying where the gaps are and whether the Industrial Strategy goes far enough.

The role of the LEP is to ensure that business has a strong voice in directing local economic development, so keep an eye on these pages for more information soon about how to get involved in the consultation.

Together we can make sure our region is an active collaborator in building on our strengths, closing the economic, skills and wages gap with other areas, and making Cornwall and the isles of Scilly the place where businesses thrive and people enjoy an outstanding quality of life.