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11 November 2020updated 09 Sep 2021 12:40pm

Beyond beaches: why the south west can be an economic hub

The chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Great South West on what the region has to offer.

By Gary Streeter MP

It is an honour to chair the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Great South West. If you think we are all about cream teas and sandcastles, think again. We have so much going for us, so much potential, but we want more.

We see an economic revolution based upon our blue economy – coastline and maritime resources – and our green economy – the rich, rural expanse of our four counties and potential to generate green power. Our regional economy is already worth £64.4bn. With the right opportunities to bring our economy in line with the UK average, it could be worth £121.7bn by 2035. While these figures were developed pre-Covid-19, they highlight the economic development that is eminently possible.

We are home to the largest single infrastructure project in Europe, at Hinkley Point; we will host Europe’s first horizontal launch spaceport in Cornwall; we house the largest naval base in western Europe at Devonport; and in Dorset, we boast one of the country’s leading centres for financial services.

Read more: How the UK can save its tourism industry

The impact of the pandemic is stark. Recent research highlights that across the south-west, approximately £2.2bn of anticipated turnover in the tourism sector between January and July was lost. And it is not just those working in the tourism sector directly who have suffered. It is estimated that this lost tourism income led to at least £162m less spending in the wider supply chain, with the potential for a negative impact of £647m.

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So far, while there has been a significant drop in overseas visitors to the region, we have seen a marked increase in visitors from other parts of the United Kingdom – in the case of Somerset, by as much as 63 per cent, according to the GSW Coronavirus Business Impact Survey earlier this year.

Government support for the tourism and hospitality sector has been crucial. Local MPs have been in regular contact with representatives from the industry throughout this crisis. We are actively lobbying for the support and finance this industry needs, and safeguarding and developing relevant skills and training is more crucial than ever to the south-west’s future. We are home to seven universities across the four counties and boast a strong further education offer, as well as University Technical Colleges delivered in partnership with leading employers such as the Royal Navy and Babcock.

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Read more: Why support for small businesses is crucial to the UK’s economic recovery

We must ensure that we persuade our homegrown and non-local graduates to stay in the south-west to establish their careers. That is why post-Covid, support such as the government’s Kickstart Scheme and the Lifetime Skills Guarantee is crucial to the economic recovery of our region.

In the Great South West, we have a coherent plan and an exciting offer to government through our recent GSW Prospectus, leading the way in green energy, marine autonomy, aquaculture and smart ports. We believe we can be the first region to achieve a net zero carbon economy and become a net exporter of clean energy. With levelling up across the country, I believe we have everything we need within the four counties to not only recover from Covid-19, but build back to be even stronger than we were before.

This article originally appeared in the Spotlight report on regional development. Click here for the full edition.