Within Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, we have already created partnerships and delivery mechanisms that can easily be adapted to fulfil the role required for our LEP.
The Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) was launched in May 2011. Private sector-led, it is a partnership between the private and public sectors and is driving the economic strategy for the area, determining local priorities and undertaking activities to drive growth and the creation of local jobs.
The LEP is business-driven and our board currently includes nine representatives of the private sector in Cornwall, three Cornwall Council representatives, one representative from the Isles of Scilly Council and one representative from the education sector. Click for more info.
The Cornwall and Isles of Scilly LEP is one of 39 LEPs across England set up following the Coalition Government's new approach to economic development. This new approach puts businesses in the driving seat and empowers the private sector to determine their own priorities.
They say a week is a long time in politics but many people must be wondering just how much the Government hopes to pack into its current term given the breakneck pace of reform we have seen in recent weeks.
When I last wrote it was a few days after the Budget and we were eagerly anticipating more details of the Government promised Devolution Deal for Cornwall.
Today, just a few weeks later, that deal has been signed between Government, Cornwall Council, the LEP and NHS Kernow, and work is already underway on the transfer of resources, powers and accountability from central Government to Cornwall in a number of key areas. You can read the full text of the deal here,
The Prime Minister has made it clear that this deal is not the end of handing powers to Cornwall. The Government will continue to listen to proposals on devolving more powers in the future, and in this respect the deal should be viewed as a major step towards delivering the full Case for Cornwall, as set out by Cornwall Council, to enable Cornwall to take greater control of its own affairs. The LEP will continue to work with the Council where the agenda is relevant to economic development.
From our point of view the devolution deal gives the LEP key responsibilities, especially around employment and skills and business support, and this applies to the Isles of Scilly as well as Cornwall. It is a genuine and very exciting opportunity to shape our economy in a way which is bespoke to our needs, and puts business in the driving seat.
The most significant opportunity is around skills, which remains one of the biggest issues facing our businesses today. Time and again I hear from local businesses about the mis-match between supply and demand where skills training does not meet the needs of our economy.
Under the terms of the devolution deal, the LEPs Employment and Skills Board will work with local and national Government and local Further Education and training providers to re-shape training and learning provision in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. This could see the LEP directly commission Further Education skills from 2017, creating huge opportunities for genuine employer-led skills activity.
The deal also gives the LEP a lead role in strengthening apprenticeships in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, especially in the micro, small and medium sized business community which make up the vast majority of our businesses. This includes the creation of a skills bank of apprentices and employers, and the ability to bring together a number of small employers to provide a single apprenticeship with varied experience.
We have also been tasked with improving the relationship between schools and local businesses to give our young people a much better insight into the careers available to them through better careers education, advice and guidance. This will build on the successful Enterprise Advisors pilot project for which we secured funding through our Growth Deal last year, and build on links we are establishing between local schools and the Aerohub Enterprise Zone at Newquay Airport.
The LEP will not undertake this activity in isolation of course but collaboratively with the business community, education and training providers, local and national Government and other partners. The aims are to increase the number of people with higher level skills, help those furthest from the labour market to get the skills and experience needed to find work, and combat underemployment, which remains a real issue for our economy.
As evidence of this you only have to look at the latest labour market statistics which show the lowest unemployment rate in Cornwall for at least 23 years at 1.2%. The number of vacancies meanwhile has increased 179% compared to a year ago. The issue is not a shortage of jobs, it is the quality of those jobs, the wages they pay, and the job-readiness of our workforce of the future. That is where we need to focus if we are going to raise skills, wages and productivity.
Another area of LEP responsibility in the devolution deal is business support, which is already one of our key economic growth priorities. Working with central Government we will join up and simplify national and local business support to make sure it meets the needs of businesses in Cornwall and the isles of Scilly.
The focus for this support will be our Growth Hub, which is currently being tendered through the EU Growth Programme and which we expect to go live early next year. In the meantime we have just launched an interim Growth Hub to signpost businesses to the support that is available now.
This is designed to bridge the gap until the full service is up and running. I would urge all businesses to sign up to the Growth Hub now, which you can do on our interim site, as it will become the focus for all business support activity in the future and include important updates as new business support projects and funding opportunities come on stream. Businesses have long called for a streamlined and easily accessible service and that is what the Growth hub will provide
In total the devolution deal commits £150 million towards business support activity through the EU Growth Programme to 2020, with at least £58 million earmarked for direct financial support to businesses in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly through a variety of loan, grant and equity schemes that we expect to be up and running next year. The deal will also give local control over future national business support funding from 2017 onwards.
Greater control over the EU Growth Programme is another aspect of the devolution deal. This will see local decision-making for investing EU funding being made in Cornwall from April 2016 and is something for which Cornwall Council, the LEP and the business community have fought hard. And it is highly relevant to other aspects of the deal including skills and business support because it gives us more freedoms to integrate activity.
On the subject of the EU we expect a number of new calls for projects to be announced by the Government in the next few weeks. Please keep an eye on the Growth Hub site where we will publish links to the full details as they become available.
The devolution deal also invites the LEP to work with partners on bringing forward proposals for a low carbon Enterprise Zone as part of a package of energy-related projects that includes energy efficiency pilots on social housing properties and support for the development of local energy markets.
The Government is keen to see the development of more Enterprise Zones similar to the highly successful Aerohub at Newquay Cornwall Airport. Such zones offer a 100% business rate discount, enhanced capital allowances, a streamlined planning regime and 100% retention of business rate growth for LEPs to help fund development in the zones.
Bids are now being invited from LEPs for new zones from across the UK by 18 September. This is a competitive process across England and given the very tight deadline the LEP will focus on a low carbon zone and potentially one other in the short term, but will look to invite other proposals for future bidding rounds in due course. Meanwhile we are continuing to progress the two Food Enterprise Zones that were announced in June.
Although mentioned in my last blog can I remind you that the LEP is seeking at least three new board members including a chairman and a minimum of two non-executive directors, with full details on how to apply here. I will be stepping down once a successor has been appointed. The deadline for applications is 21 August so please spread the word among your networks.
Please also consider attending the Cornwall Careers Show, which takes place at the Royal Cornwall Showground on 14 and 15 October. The show will attract over 3,500 young people across the county from schools, colleges and youth groups and is a great opportunity to inform and inspire them about the huge range of opportunities available in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. For more details click here.
All that remains is for me to wish you all a good summer, whether at work or at play.