In recent years devolution has been a word banded around by national and local politicians alike, as the Government‘s approach to economic development has been one towards decentralisation, by encouraging decision making from London and into the regions through devolution. This presents an opportunity and a challenge for Somerset to shape its own economic future. A number of devolution deals have been struck in England, mainly in urban and metropolitan areas, with more in the pipeline.
Somerset is part of the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership (HotSWLEP) area, which consists of 20 political and economic partners including Somerset County Council, Devon County Council, Torbay and Plymouth Unitary Authorities, Dartmoor and Exmoor national parks, along with 13 district councils and the NHS. In a diverse and complex environment a strong and clear business voice is needed across the region to ensure the interests of business are at the core of any proposed devolution deal.
A draft productivity plan aiming to place Somerset at the heart of the national industrial strategy was launched earlier in the year by the devolution partnership comprising of HotSWLEP representatives. Whilst the HotSWLEP has seen an increase in employment we rank poorly in terms of productivity, but there are some sharp variances. To compare median gross annual pay to the national average, Somerset workers receive 12% less and productivity measured as Gross Value Added (GVA) per full time equivalent job is £42,787, which is substantially lower (18%) that the UK level.
It is clear that there are some significant opportunities in a variety of sectors of the Heart of the South West (HotSW) including nuclear, food and drink, marine, health and care, aerospace and advanced engineering which could see transformational growth. The aspiration is to ensure that the area makes a significant contribution to the UK’s future productivity growth, resulting in improvements to living standards and associated economic benefits. A figure of £70 billion has been mentioned by 2036 which would double the size of the HotSW economy.
The draft plan which is currently out for consultation will finish taking feedback on 30th November. The Chamber has provided feedback based on our members views as articulated in our Business Manifesto – A Business Plan for Somerset. However, I strongly encourage all businesses, organisations, groups and individuals to review and comment on the draft plan which is hosted on Torbay Council’s website at www.torbay.gov.uk/devolution . The results from the consultation will be considered by the joint committee of the Leaders of the HotSW and HotSWLEP Board, before a final productivity strategy is agreed in early 2018, which the Chamber will forward to members.