South West has little to cheer about in Autumn Statement

With many Conservative MPs worrying about their prospects at the fast-approaching General Election there were mentions for various schemes and projects across the country.

But when it came to South West there was little to cheer about in terms of concrete announcements.

While Investment Zones were announced in the Midlands,  North West and Wales there was no scheme in the South West.

Bristol got a mention in passing thanks to the £225m investment in the AI supercomputer at Bristol University.

An extra £500m has been committed to fund the next generation of supercomputers in the UK in a bid to build on the successful Bristol scheme.

And it was also announced that a devolution deal has been agreed between the government and Cornwall Council.

The deal will transfer new powers to Cornwall Council, providing local leaders with more control and influence over the levers of local growth, including devolution of the Adult Education Budget.

The agreement also includes £500,000 of funding to support Cornish distinctiveness, including the protection and promotion of the Cornish language.

The Level 2 deal builds on the previous 2015 devolution deal for Cornwall and is the next step to increasing devolution for the region.

Earlier this year’s Cornwall Council’s level three devolution collapsed amid local tensions over moving to a mayoral model.

A public consultation revealed opposition to switching to the mayoral system across the county.

There was backing for aerospace and the automotive sectors – both key industries for the region but little else on offer for a region.

David Williams, senior office partner at KPMG in the South West, said: “The £2bn and £975m announced for automotive and aerospace manufacturing respectively could go a long way to shoring up these sectors in the South West, helping them continue to expand and mitigate ongoing challenges such as talent recruitment and retention.

“And, as a major provider of local jobs and having struggled since the pandemic, the region’s hospitality industry will welcome the news that the Chancellor will extend the 75 per cent business rates discount for hospitality, retail and leisure businesses.”

“Plans to launch a new scheme that will train the next generation of science and technology venture capitalists, as announced in the Autumn Statement text, should come as positive news for the South West’s broad range of innovators. The region is home to some of the UK’s foremost research and development specialists and academic institutions, so we have no shortage of expertise and bold ideas. The challenge for our innovators has been securing the investment they need to help scale their concepts, so the Chancellor’s plans to respond to these needs will be welcomed.”

Dan Norris, Labour’s West of England mayor, said: “I welcome the additional investment into key strategic sectors for the West – including in the automotive and aerospace industries – plus more cash in AI to help create more Bristol supercomputing success stories.

“The additional tax relief for creative companies and extra support for retailers really struggling during a cost-of-doing-business crisis is also positive. And I cautiously welcome the objective of additional powers for mayoral combined authorities like mine – I await further details.

“But as always, this is another budget that was more notable for what was not in it. Where is the long-term serious plan to tackle the NHS backlog? Why is there is nothing here on transport or building on the success of regional schemes like my £10m RetrofitWest scheme and insulating more homes?

“The West of England has so much potential – we have the drive to do whatever we put our minds to. But we have a Conservative government that is an anchor to progress. It’s one that’s out of ideas, out of touch and out of time. The West of England really needs them out of office too.”

Jonathan Riley, practice leader Bristol and South West of Grant Thornton said:  “Given what the voter intention polls have been saying, it felt like a bullish speech from a Chancellor who is determined to focus on growth. 

“The South West per se was not prominent in the speech and we would have welcomed seeing a local area selected as one of the new Investment Zones.   

 “Many UK regions have focused on developing the science and innovation economy and making available an additional £500 million to fund innovation centres to make the UK an ‘AI powerhouse’ sounds progressive.  Extending freeport and investment zone tax breaks from five years to ten years will also be welcome.

“Decarbonising how we live and work is the challenge of our times and whilst there are some encouraging measures around clean energy to access the grid, doubtless there is scope to do a great deal more.”