Rurality rules in the South West
Prospects recently sponsored a roundtable event in Exeter with the think tank the New Local Government Network (NLGN). The roundtable, chaired by NLGN Director Adam Lent brought together leading professionals from local authorities, Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), Further Education and business to discuss the employment and skills challenges in the context of developing local industrial strategies in the South West.
The roundtable took place against the background of the Government’s Industrial Strategy published in November last year, in which skills and good jobs and greater earning power for all was one its five foundations. The Government is looking to local areas to develop local industrial strategies which help identify priorities to improve skills, increase innovation and enhance infrastructure and business growth.
A key theme which was discussed was the particular challenges which are faced by rural communities. This was not at all surprising given 38% of the population live, and 54.1% of all its enterprises across the four LEP areas represented - Cornwall and Isle of Scilly, Dorset, Swindon and Wilshire and the Heart of the South West (covering Devon, Plymouth, Somerset and Torbay) - are located in a rural area, compared to 18% and 24% respectively for England. The four LEPs had last year commissioned an independent enquiry to identify opportunities to stimulate rural productivity and growth; the roundtable discussed some of the conclusions from that report.
There was also a real concern around the table on whether central government in setting the policy framework for the Industrial Strategy it had, and continues to, take account of the unique challenges of rural communities.
Another issue discussed was the wealth inequalities to be found both across the region and within local communities. Prospects’ Regional Operations Director in the South West, Nicola Squibb, told guests that inclusive growth cannot be left to chance, with the hope that it trickles down to the the bottom end of the labour market to boost wages, living standards and generate social mobility. It requires a targeted and nuanced approach to make the right investment choices.
Prospects is sponsoring further roundtables with the NLGN on these issues. Next stop will be the Tees Valley. And the NLGN will be writing up all the discussions and a paper will be published later in the year.