Andrew Bailey, the Governor of the Bank of England undertook his inaugural virtual visit to the south west, hosted by the South West Business Council. Hot on the heels of the Chancellor’s Comprehensive Spending Review and with no EU trade deal in place, the Governor had asked for a private regional business briefing, to understand more of the priorities and opportunities for growth.

Twenty five business leaders from Cornwall, Devon, Somerset and Dorset joined the Governor and his senior team to discuss the potential for driving a green recovery for the UK. The debate focused on prospects for tourism and hospitality, manufacturing, professional services and the vital growth area of natural capital.

Regional business priorities:

With thousands of tourism businesses within the region, generating a spend of £4.3 billion1(preCOVID-19) per year, Andrew Bailey was briefed on the help the industry needs from banks between now and Easter as businesses battle to recover from the loss of trade caused by the pandemic. The industry has the ability to create thousands of jobs very quickly to support the UK’s wider recovery, which could prove pivotal in the south west’s recovery.

Understanding the new priorities post pandemic for the visitor economy is essential, albeit many regional businesses have adapted and diversified to make the most of the opportunities at hand. However, building greater resilience longer term will protect the economy through valuable employment and supply chain activity, as well as ensuring a high quality and distinctive offer for both domestic and international visitors.

Equally, as a centre for manufacturing, the south west excels, providing vital backbone to the UK economy. Plymouth has maintained its top flight status with the highest concentration of its workforce employed in manufacturing at 11.2%, and Gross Value Added standing at a record c£900 million.

Given the importance being placed upon green infrastructure, policy and cutting carbon, natural capital is also a relatively untapped asset for our region. As home to the UNESCO designated North Devon Biosphere with a wealth of natural habitats and prime agricultural land, the south west is in pole position to lead the way in the development of new commercial opportunities.

De-risking green investment and making it more attractive to pension fund investments especially in regard to longer term and larger infrastructure projects could represent a significant opportunity. In

1 Home Sweet Home, House of Commons Library, November 2019

this respect, the fact that the marketplace needs help could be an area for Government support: for example, by bringing farmers whose work is benefitting the environment together with investors who are looking for exactly those green business opportunities.

Discussion focus:

In a session led by SWBC Chair Tim Jones, the Governor was briefed on the region’s successes: from building on our high-value manufacturing, to future growth projections from professional services, technology and digital innovators. The Governor also heard that the region’s private sector and world-class Higher and Further Education institutions are focused on preparing the workforce for a digital future. At the heart of this ambition is the need to attract and retain talent, building an economic profile to stimulate inward investment and energetically pursue global trade opportunities across a range of markets.

Business collaboration:

The South West Business Council was grateful for the support of all of the business leaders but especially the expert witness from the panel. The Governor heard from a distinguished group of industry leaders on the subjects under debate, including:

  • Malcom Bell, Chief Executive, Visit Cornwall
  • Charles Courtenay, Earl of Devon & Partner, Michelmores LLP
  • Dr Robin Daniels, Chief Executive, South West Business Council
  • Alistair Handyside MBE, Chair, of the SW Tourism Alliance
  • Craig Moore, Partner & Plymouth Office Head, Womble Bond Dickinson LLP & Vice Chair of the Plymouth Area Business Council
  • Dr Graham Stirling CBE, Chair of the Barden Corporation.