Economic Growth: South-west — [Albert Owen in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:58 pm on 5th February 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Derek Thomas Derek Thomas Conservative, St Ives 2:58 pm, 5th February 2019

I am glad to follow Luke Pollard. I also give credit to my hon. Friend Sir Gary Streeter for having secured this debate and for his inspiring leadership, driving us to continue to bang the drum for the great south-west.

To take Members a few hundred miles further west, if that is okay, my constituency—which covers St Ives, west Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly—and the Duchy of Cornwall more generally is a brilliant and unique part of the UK, with a thriving culture that contributes much to the UK as a whole. Our tourism industry is a great success, which increasingly attracts visitors from across the globe—so many, in fact, that Visit Cornwall decided to turn them away in the summer, and made that point to the media.

We also have a proud story to tell about supporting and hosting renewable energy platforms and about environmental protections, but the fact remains that distinct economic challenges exist that hold us back from achieving our potential. Handouts are not needed, but Government policy, support and investment are needed to create a thriving and prosperous economy that leaves no one behind in Cornwall. I want to use the opportunity today to flag up the moral case for ensuring that Cornwall and other parts of the south-west receive adequate and appropriate support and funding from Whitehall. Gross value added per head is £17,634, which is 35% below the UK average. Wages are 20% lower than in the rest of the UK. House prices do not reflect that reduced income and are roughly the same as in the rest of the UK. One can imagine that for a family starting out and working on the average wage, the cost of getting a home and having a stake in their area is prohibitive.

Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly is the only local enterprise partnership area in the whole of England that is currently classified as less developed. I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate to remind the House that work and effort is needed to change Cornwall’s economic development. The Government have made it clear that a shared prosperity fund will replace European funding streams once we have left the EU. In response to that opportunity, I set up a jobs and growth roundtable bringing together business owners, Cornwall Council, local elected representatives and members of the voluntary sector. We meet every quarter to focus on how shared prosperity funds could address the problem of low wages and sustained deprivation in west Cornwall. That is something that European funds have not successfully addressed.

I was grateful that the Chief Secretary to the Treasury attended our inaugural jobs and growth roundtable and was clearly engaged in the issues we raised. She asked us to set out the barriers to growth in west Cornwall. In response, we said that there were many barriers in the way of ambitious young people seeking a good career in west Cornwall. That results in a skills drain, with young people moving out of the area to find a career. The colleges confirm that the biggest challenge in west Cornwall is providing young people with good employment opportunities. The Government must support employment and apprenticeships and stop messing around with further education curriculums, which are currently not fit for purpose for small companies that are keen to take on apprentices.

The Isles of Scilly Steamship Company, a significant employer in the constituency, state that its biggest issue is attracting skilled staff, including marine crew and aircraft engineers. Other companies say they have to send staff to other parts of the country for training. Goonhilly Satellite Earth Station is having similar problems, and it has to recruit out of county and find means to attract people to Cornwall.

Despite changes to business rates, the charge is having a crippling effect on our town centres. Public transport is not suitable for getting to and from work, and our road and rail network can no longer meet current demand. There has been a historic lack of investment in west Cornwall. Much will be said in this debate about the need for investment in infrastructure, and that is true of the whole south-west. The Minister will be acutely aware of the various priorities I have raised repeatedly in this place. In addition, we absolutely need to smash the problem of low wages, and we must invest in people. Investment is needed in providing skilled apprenticeships and training schemes to support employment, ambition and the futures of our children and grandchildren. Investment is needed to make Cornwall a more attractive economic hub. Transport infrastructure is central to that.

There is no denying that Cornwall is a wonderful place to live, with beautiful scenery and the best culture in the land, but we must ensure our economy matches the thriving local culture. I was delighted to support the launch of the “Great South West” initiative last year. Cornwall’s future prosperity cannot be addressed in isolation, and Cornwall is an enthusiastic partner of the “Great South West” initiative. I echo its calls to promote the south-west’s opportunities, to develop shared propositions to attract investment and boost productivity, to work on areas of common interest, and to drive opportunities through the work of local leaders, businesses, schools and authorities.

In conclusion, one area offers great opportunities, skilled jobs and a sustainable future—Cornwall has a specific tale to share in the area—and that is our response to global warming, and the need to care for our environment and leave to our children a planet that is in better shape than we found it. There is a renewed ambition in Cornwall to reduce harmful emissions and increase renewable energy supplies. Cornwall is working together to set up a clear plan on how that can be delivered by 2030. I would like Government funding to dramatically improve our fuel-poor homes, which are some of the leakiest in Europe; to empower greater development and installation of all forms of renewable energy; and to use the latest smart technology to improve the A30. All that will ensure our houses are warmer and cheaper to keep, our air is cleaner, our energy is cheaper and our harmful imprint on Earth is reduced. That is a sure way to create jobs, increase wages, reduce the cost of living and create prosperity.