So it’s official – we’re going to have to wait a little longer to find out how the Government intends to tackle regional inequalities across the UK.
It was confirmed this week that the Levelling Up White Paper, which had been anticipated before the end of the year, will now be published in 2022.
Downing Street says the Levelling Up Secretary, Michael Gove, expects to finalise the paper early in the New Year.
The white paper will set out how the Government plans to deliver its flagship policy to tackle regional disparities in living standards across the UK. It is also expected to include more details about county deals, which Cornwall is discussing with Government, and the future of England’s 38 Local Enterprise Partnerships, set up a decade ago.
The mood music appears to be pointing to a pro-devolution agenda via local democratic structures, with LEPs potentially subsumed over time into new deals for counties and combined authorities for cities.
Government does seem to recognise that the voice of business will be vital to levelling up, so I’m optimistic that if LEPs are changed there will be a continued and important role for the private sector to work with our partners in helping to shape our region’s economic future.
This will be critical with skills and education for example, making sure that we have a workforce fit for the future. The LEP-funded STEM and Health Skills Centre at Bodmin, which opens next year, is working with local industry and the LEP to shape its new curriculum. And it is the business community that continues to drive innovation and R&D across a range of existing and emerging sectors.
But regardless of the structures that govern regional funding in the coming months or years, Cornwall’s offer to the UK is a compelling one, and worthy of sustained investment.
In recent months we have been setting out to Government the opportunity for Cornwall to drive the green industrial revolution and power the net zero economy.
We’ve shown how Cornwall, with Government backing and devolved powers, can help pioneer a new floating offshore wind industry in the Celtic Sea, generating clean power for millions of homes and a £30 billion export market for Global Britain.
We’ve outlined how modest subsidy support can accelerate the development of deep geothermal energy projects in Cornwall, like we’ve seen at United Downs and Eden.
These in turn could provide clean electricity and heat for local homes and businesses, and power Cornwall’s resurgent metal mining industry, which is discovering high grade lithium, tin and copper deposits at sites across Cornwall.
These technology metals will be vital to achieving the energy transition away from fossil fuels, so there’s an opportunity to create a circular low carbon economy right here in Cornwall based around tech metal extraction.
That’s why the LEP is investing £2.9m from the Government’s Getting Building Fund in a pilot plant at United Downs to extract lithium for new battery technologies from geothermal waters from deep underground.
We’re also discussing with Government how more public investment alongside the private sector can help secure a sustainable, low carbon mining industry and a sovereign supply of critical minerals for UK industry. This would create jobs at all levels in the Cornish economy.
With the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, we are exploring how Cornwall can be a national pilot for a ‘whole farm’ support project to help farmers adapt to a new post-Brexit payment system which started this month. Without co-ordinated support there are fears many small farms could go to the wall, losing the economic and environmental gains the new regime is designed to encourage.
And we’re discussing how we can create a satellite manufacturing industry in Cornwall. This would complement our horizontal satellite launch capabilities at Spaceport Cornwall where the first satellite to be launched from UK soil will take off next summer, and the growing capabilities of Goonhilly Earth Station for deep space communications and data processing. The LEP has invested over £10m in developing these world-class space facilities to date.
We’re also one of just eight areas in the running to be UK City of Culture 2025, and at the heart of our inclusive bid, which is being led by the LEP, is how art and culture can respond to, interpret and offer solutions to the pressing issues of our age, including climate change.
This isn’t a random shopping list of aspirations. This is an integrated and thoughtful set of interventions that are collectively designed to support the levelling up our area when compared to other parts of the UK, and build on investments we have already made.
They will create quality jobs, contribute to the decarbonisation of our economy and the enhancement of our biodiversity and natural capital.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak said in his Autumn Budget in October that Cornwall would receive at least as much money from the long-awaited Shared Prosperity Fund as we would have got from the EU before Brexit.
The Levelling Up White Paper will set the framework for how we spend it. And whatever structures emerge, I think we can all agree that those investment decisions are best made locally, for one and all.
Mark Duddridge is Chair of the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership.