Sunday, 13 November 2011

Cornwall and Scilly LEP, some thoughts a year in.


Ages ago I blogged about the new Cornwall LEP, arguing that it should learn from the mistakes of the RDA. That it should be more receptive to existing business and try not to solely focus on bringing business to Cornwall, instead building upon what we have already. However, I ought to have argued that the LEP should learn from the successes of the RDA. As much as there were bad investments and hostility to South Crofty mine from the RDA it did have a semblance of strategy and direction. I do not think it was the right strategy and direction but they had a plan and they implemented it. This is in complete contrast to the LEP, take for example their website, here we might expect to find who the LEP is, what they do, what they want to do and how they will achieve it. But alas no, it offers:

"It is anticipated that the Partnership will operate as a company limited by guarantee, with responsibility for understanding and articulating the requirements of business for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, and commissioning the delivery of world class economic development projects and programmes which will support sustainable economic growth."

(I think the site has not been updated since the bid was successful if anyone knows if this is the case and why, please comment below)
I have no problem with these laudable aims, everyone recognises the need for Cornwall and Scilly to have economic growth. But words are meaningless without a plan and a way to achieve that plan. Delving further into the website:

"with improved transport links such as Newquay airport and internationally renowned developments including the Eden Project in St Austell, the Tate Art Gallery in St Ives and the National Maritime Museum in Falmouth, the challenge is to further use these opportunities to diversify and transform the economy."

A real focus there on tourism, nothing about the retail, manufacturing, agriculture, food production, fishing, quarrying, construction and engineering. Don't get me wrong we need tourism but we must accept the fact that ONS figures demonstrate that 11% of spending in Cornwall is due to tourism, see here. Tourism is not a big sector either for employment or the Cornish economy, significant yes but it should not be the sole focus of our attention. Besides which the vast majority of the UK and Western Europe are aware that Kernow is a great place to come on holiday, attractions like the Eden Project are already well known. What I am trying to say is that people know of Cornwall's attraction, they know we have a great coastline, great surf, great food, great attractions and great people. Try as we might but "the Cornish riveira" could not have a greater profile. It is hard to imagine how tourism could grow in Cornwall, it is therefore hard to imagine how tourism could be used as a foundation in which to "diversify and transform the economy". Besides which there is the obvious logic that we have a great tourist sector at the moment, yet nowhere in England receives European Convergence Funding but Cornwall does, surely time to start thinking differently.

The website continues:

The private sector will lead the Partnership and, by working in partnership with the public sector, will harness the entrepreneurial spirit of the business community which has a world renowned history and reputation for innovation to lead a new ‘knowledge based’ and ‘green’ economic revolution, as it once led the first industrial revolution. This transformational agenda should focus on Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly becoming a dynamic leader in new technologies, and while building on existing strengths is important, there are huge opportunities for a step change in the profile of our economy. 

Again great buzzwords, great sentiment but an abject lack of substance and tangible plans. We all know that Cornwall led the Industrial Revolution, we all know Cornwall was the birthplace of high pressure steam and the steam engine/ train thanks to Trevithick. We know that Davy was the brilliant mind behind the Miner's Safety Lamp, Nitrous Oxide (laughing gas) and a huge amount of modern chemistry. We know of all these things and so much more. We know that the Cornish people are innovative, intelligent and adaptable, but what I want to know is how will the LEP tap into this potential.


Andrew Wallis did blog (a while ago) about the plans for the LEP see here, (as always well worth a read), if you look through the briefing note it has lots of buzzwords and waffle and no actual substance. Again and again we are told about rebranding, changing our image and thus being more competitive as the conclusion states:

Cornwall has changed considerably over the last two decades and is still changing, but this is not fully understood by external audiences. The adoption of a “competitive identity approach” will enable a focused and coherent series of mutually reinforcing, cost effective communications and promotions to be undertaken. This will raise the profile and build on the excellent reputation of the existing successful sectors to drive greater awareness and recognition of the emerging/hidden growth industries and thereby assist in its economic development and building on the real pride and self determination of those that live and work in Cornwall


Is rebranding the right approach for Cornwall? I do not think so, firstly it's an unimaginative and flimsy idea, secondly why is it needed? and what good will rebranding do? To my mind we have a good image, Cornwall's natural beauty is no secret, our food both prepared (clotted cream, pasties etc) and fresh (meat, fish & vegetables) is well known, our ales and ciders (St Austell Brewery, Sharps, Skinners, Healey's) also have a reputation for high quality. I am not saying we should neglect these things far from it, they should be supported, the LEP and Cornwall Council should look to help these businesses. But they don't need marketing, Cornwall has a great reputation for high quality fresh produce, we have a "competitive identity". We will make no leaps and bounds economically by rebranding Cornwall, we do not need marketing to solve our problems. We are happy with who we are and what we do, and our formidable export industry proves we do not need to improve our image.

Marketing is a great asset, it is a useful tool to promote a company and increase sales, but it is not a strategy alone. It is doubtful whether a sole focus on marketing ("rebranding" "competitive identity") would do Cornwall any good. Further more I have no idea how any of these ideas proposed above would provide a "transformation" in the Cornish economy, maybe the Coalition and Cornwall Council haven't realised but many Cornish companies already have effective marketing strategies. This is a symptom of the wishy washiness of the LEP and it's plans . Frankly I do not know what to suggest to the LEP, they have a website that hasn't been updated in months, I have no idea what their organisation is, what expertise and capability they have or what they want to do. I can not say any more of their plans, as far as I am concerned they have none. It's over 12 months since the government announced Cornwall and Scilly's successful LEP bid and so far they have no strategy, no public consultation and not even a working website, let alone actually doing anything, Cornwall deserves far better than this.