CBI calls for government to appoint Minister for the South West to rival success of Northern Powerhouse

January 13, 2020

The South West needs its own government minister to champion the case for more funding and spur its economic growth, the CBI’s director general said on a visit to the region.

Such a move – along with more autonomy for the West of England’s Metro Mayor over government funding – would ‘power up’ the region, Dame Carolyn Fairbairn, pictured, told a gathering of the region’s business leaders. 

The result would allow the South West to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine in crucial areas such as skills, infrastructure and innovation.

She also said that the green shoots of a recovery in business confidence were being seen around the UK as businesses welcomed political clarity over Brexit from the recently elected Conservative government and the resulting emphasis it has placed on investing in areas such as digital infrastructure.

That clarity also meant the CBI could now work with the government to ensure that post-Brexit trade negotiations were beneficial to UK businesses, especially in areas such as financial services, she said.

Speaking to an invited audience at the Old Vic theatre in Bristol, Dame Carolyn said the South West deserved a seat at the Cabinet table when major decisions on government spending were being made.

“The South West has real and unique strengths in areas such as green energy and food, among others,” she said. “And there is world-class innovation here too backed by the excellent universities.

“That means the skills needs of the region are very different to the North and the Midlands. A minister for the South West and a strengthening of the powers of the metro mayors mean decisions on spending could be taken to help solve the skills and productivity problems in the region.”

She acknowledged that similar pleas had been made in the past by South West business organisations and regional politicians – and been snubbed by successive governments – but said the success of the Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine showed what could be achieved and now made the South West’s case much stronger.

There was also a need for the business community to have a stronger voice in areas such as infrastructure spending, she said. Among essential improvement in the South West was better links to Bristol Airport, she said, as well as upgrades to the M5 and A303 south of Bristol.

“Now, we must ensure the South West gets the funding it needs, to deliver these improvements,” she added.

“We believe it’s time that the government gave the South West its own ministerial champion with a seat in Cabinet, alongside the existing ministers for the Midlands Engine and Northern Powerhouse.

“These ministerial champions could also help prioritise progress on local industrial strategies and plans for further devolution, that the CBI has long called for.

“Giving local leaders greater clarity on the power and resources available to help their region thrive.”

She praised the government for swift action loosening restrictions on post-study visas – something the CBI lobbied Theresa May’s government hard for but failed to achieve. This was just one example of the new government being pro-enterprise, she said.

She told the gathering that getting further reforms to immigration right was essential.

“Delivering the control that will secure public confidence, while being open to the workers businesses need,” she said.

“With an ageing population and the country’s highest employment rate, many businesses here already struggle to fill vacancies, relying on people from around the world to help produce our food care for us when we’re older design and build our homes and bring new ideas into our industries.

“Without detailed plans from government, firms are worried about what the new system, the biggest change to UK immigration in almost 30 years will mean for their workforce, and the extra bureaucracy it could create.

“Some are also unable to commit to raising their wages bill to meet the possible minimum salary requirement of £30,000. As a country, we need to get these changes right – first time.”


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