All of those things are true, of course, but I did say that “for some” the south-west is the seven counties, including even Gloucestershire, which Cheltenham is in. I understand that Cheltenham itself is a small market town somewhere to the north-east.
I will describe that which is going well, what we welcome from the Government already and what we still want to see. First, what is going well? Of course, our natural assets are still there and they remain unrivalled: the sea, the coast, the moor, the areas of outstanding natural beauty, the stunning landscapes and the beautiful towns and villages. The south-west is a region like no other.
I am delighted to say that tourism is flourishing. We have more quality places to stay, and better visitor destinations and tourist attractions. Mr Owen, you might be interested to know that I will make the case that we are not just a tourist region—far from it—but 311,000 people were employed in the hospitality sector in 2017 and it provides roughly 11% of the overall regional employment. So tourism remains significant and it is doing well, thanks partly to the fact that we had some wonderful weather last year and the roads were full all the time.
The second thing that is going well is the collaboration between our local enterprise partnerships, and our local authorities and national parks. That collaboration is the closest and most effective since records began, and in all my time in this House I have certainly never seen our various component parts working together as they are today. There is also a close working relationship with the private sector. Some colleagues in Westminster Hall today will recall the “Back The South West” campaign that we launched in 2016, with the charter—the south-west growth charter—that I will refer to shortly. All of that is driven by private sector companies that are ambitious for our region and determined to deliver.
At the 2016 Exeter conference, the then Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government came down and made a great and passionate speech, and told us to speak with a single voice in the south-west. We have done that; we are more joined-up than ever before, and I think it is beginning to make its mark upon Government.
Far from being just a tourist area, our region boasts some wonderful companies. For example, Princess Yachts in Plymouth employs 3,000 people and Babcock employs 4,500 people in the dockyard and naval base. That is to name but two; there are many other companies and I am sure that colleagues will mention some of the high-performing companies in their constituencies.
I will single out just two companies from the south-west that are doing particularly well. First, there is the Pennon Group. Brilliantly led by Chris Loughlin, it includes South West Water, which is a leading national water and sewerage company that will make £1 billion worth of investment in our region by 2025. Its business plan has been fast-tracked by Ofwat for the second time in a row, which I think is unique among the water companies. Pennon Group also includes Viridor, which is the UK’s largest recycling company, so we have this successful and ambitious green company that employs over 5,000 people UK-wide. It is a company that our region is rightly proud of and it generates over 6,000 jobs in our region alone through direct and indirect employment. We thank the Pennon Group for all it does for our region.
The second company is Thales, which is a major global defence contractor that employs over 1,100 people in the wider south-west, including in Cheltenham. Thales stated recently that it sees huge potential for its business in the south-west and the region as a whole:
“There is the opportunity to put the region on the map in the digital technology and maritime space and with the support of Government we think the region can go from strength to strength.”