Cornwall’s role in Global Britain

April 10, 2021

As the Government publishes its integrated security and defence review, Mark Duddridge outlines Cornwall’s role in a Global Britain.

The Government’s Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy might not, at first glance, seem especially pertinent to Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

But dig a little deeper into the 114-page document and you get a feel for why Cornwall is a key strategic asset to what the Prime Minister calls ‘Global Britain’.

That’s because the Integrated Review, which was published this week, says tackling climate change and biodiversity loss is the UK’s number one international priority.

This comes in the same year that Britain hosts the G7 summit of world leaders in Cornwall in June, and chairs the 26th UN Climate Change conference in November. Both events will set the tone for the UK’s international engagement in the decade ahead.

Existential threat

Decarbonising our economy is the challenge of our age. Climate change is without doubt an existential threat to mankind, and arguably the single most important driver of innovation in science and technology in the world today, and certainly tomorrow.

It’s why the Prime Minister has championed what he calls a ‘Green Industrial Revolution’. The UK, and especially Cornwall, can be a global problem-solver, cutting carbon emissions, securing domestic energy supplies, creating new industries and jobs, while exporting our know-how around the world.

But the Government is also aware that the construction of many renewable energy technologies, from electric cars to wind turbines (not to mention defence technologies) also rely on critical minerals like lithium, tungsten and cobalt.

Critical resources

The availability of those critical resources at a time of soaring global demand is far from secure. A Commons debate this week highlighted that more than 75% of the world’s lithium-ion component manufacturers are located in China, which is why more than 72% of lithium-ion batteries and 45% of all global electric vehicles are made there.

Last month, President Biden issued an executive order for a strategic review into supply chains for critical resources like lithium and other minerals that are essential to keeping the electric car industry going.

In the UK, the Government has committed to phase out sales of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030. And remember that battery technology is not just important for vehicles. Large scale storage capacity will be needed to iron out peaks and troughs in renewable generation from solar and wind in the future.

Demand for lithium

With all that on the horizon it’s perhaps no surprise that lithium prices have shot up by 88% already this year, or that nations should start to look closer to home for secure and responsibly sourced supplies of critical goods.

That’s why Cornwall features in the Integrated Review, and in particular our mineral reserves, because we sit atop one of just five large scale lithium-enriched bodies of granite in the world (and it’s the reason why we also have the best geothermal resources in the UK).

The report says: “Within the UK we will continue to explore opportunities around domestic extraction and processing of critical minerals such as lithium,” going on to cite the LEP’s support for a pilot lithium extraction plant at United Downs, which we are funding through the Government’s Getting Building Fund.

There are currently around half a dozen companies prospecting for critical minerals in Cornwall, including lithium, tungsten and tin, and more than 100 mining services businesses here that are 99% export driven. Little wonder then that the Commons heard this week that Cornwall and the South West should be at the heart of a critical minerals industry in the UK, and deserves further support.

Renewable energy

The Integrated Review also stresses the importance of home-grown renewable energy to domestic supply and tackling climate change, and reiterates the Government’s commitment to deliver 40GW of offshore wind power by 2030, enough to power every home in Britain.

Here in Cornwall we have one of the best offshore wind resources in Europe, which is why we are working with Government and industry to develop a floating offshore wind sector in the Celtic Sea, with investment in our supply chain, ports and people.

Among the first steps will be a pilot project at the Wave Hub site, 16kms off Hayle, which could power 23,000 homes. The Prime Minister says he wants 1GW of floating wind by 2030, and there’s no reason why Cornwall, with the right support, can’t deliver that, then export our expertise globally.

Race for space

Another area where Cornwall will provide the UK with sovereign capabilities is space. The space industry is one of the UK’s fastest growing sectors, having trebled in size since 2010. It now employs 42,000 people and generates an income of £14.8 a year.

Until now the UK has had no ability to launch its own satellites, which is a growing global market especially for communications, data and earth observation. That’s about to change with the first horizontal satellite launched planned by Virgin Orbit from Cornwall Airport Newquay in the first half of next year.

Investment from the LEP, Cornwall Council and the UK Space Agency is creating Cornwall’s own Spaceport, with a new hangar being funded by the Getting Building Fund following our successful bid to Government last year.

Artificial intelligence

Goonhilly Earth Station is also mentioned in the Integrated Review as the UK’s first commercial deep space network, which has been enabled by £8.4m of LEP investment from the Local Growth Fund. Goonhilly wants to be the UK’s premier hub for space related artificial intelligence and deep learning, and has built a state-of-the-art data centre to support its ambition.

For a snapshot of how it is helping farmers use data from space to grow food in a more efficient and sustainable way, check out the BBC’s Follow the Food programme online (episode 2).

In setting out the Government’s Integrated Review, the Prime Minister’s vision is for a stronger, more secure, prosperous and resilient UK. Cornwall has an important role to play in that Global Britain.

Mark Duddridge is chair of the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership