Friday, 25 November 2011

LEP Cornwall needs to learn from the Black Country


I have posted a few times recently about the Cornish and Scillonian LEP and it's lack of obvious work. In the last couple of weeks they have announced public consultations (again please do go to them and have your say see here for details) and a website http://www.cornwallandislesofscillylep.com/. I did get to thinking am I being a bit unfair on the LEP perhaps? for whatever reason maybe it does take over a year to set up a website and start the public consultation process, perhaps I am being a little impatient. So whilst waiting for the good news of Mebyon Kernow's electoral success in Wendron last night, I had a look on the internet to see what other LEP's were doing. To be fair, a number have done very little and Cornwall and Scilly is certainly not alone in announcing a board without a clear idea of what they are to do. However, I did stumble across the Black Country LEP website and I was shocked to see the level of work they have done. It would take a long time to list everything they have on the site but it's bright it's colourful it is the first result on google, they have an optimistic 5 year strategy, they have contact details. There are lists of development opportunities, there are lists of current investments, there is a message from the chairman, it's a really positive message on the whole website. See for yourself here.

I don't know if looking through the website all the opportunities are to everyone's taste, big Tesco's extensions, housing estates going up everywhere, new roads being built etc. But the point remains in the year that has passed work could have been done here in Cornwall that has been done there in the Black Country. Following on from Stephen Richardson's blog about Mebyon Kernow offering positive ideas, I would like to suggest a few things. Firstly it must be said that I am still none the wiser as to what the LEP can do, what resources they have extra. So two of my ideas are really quite simple and could be relatively cheap to implement, my third idea will take more work but still worth considering.

1. Wavehub there are still no companies trialling this innovative technology, the LEP should take it upon itself to get customers. They need to publicise the facility and it's potential more and to try to make the Wavehub more attractive whether that be through tax relief or just by answering interested parties concerns. Things like attending trade shows speaking to foreign governments. Generally getting the message out there that this world class piece of equipment is there and ready to use.

2. The internet, it occurs to me that Superfast Broadband is an opportunity for Cornish companies to compete with anywhere on this globe. As Spider Eye productions in St Just proves, location is no obstacle to working internationally (Spider Eye makes the kid's program Jungle Junction for the Disney Channel and my children love it). How can the LEP attract companies too Cornwall with this promise of world class speed internet. Also how can they help existing Cornish businesses reach bigger audiences? One simple way in my opinion would be to offer free or subsidised workshops open to all businesses to teach them how to make a bigger impact online. For example things like designing websites and how to get noticed on search engines (SEO), using social media better, efficient ways of sending big files and so on.

3.This is a much bigger one, but I would like to see the LEP thinking about how Cornish goods could be sent to wider markets. How can we take advantage of our geography? we are a peninsula with a long and winding road up to England, so rather than relying on the A30, A38 and M5, can't we look to using our ports and airport to get goods direct to the continent and the wider world. Kickstarting Cornish exports overseas would be a great way to boost our economy and to work with the great exports we already have. Lets use our ports and airports to attract business here, to more efficently reach bigger markets, to better connect us with the world.

So let's learn from the Black Country LEP, lets get out there and tell the big wide world that we have an LEP that we want to do business that we want economic growth, we want a better economy and we want better wages in Cornwall. We are starting from behind, the regions of England have got a headstart on us, lets not fall behind, get the website sorted now. Get some ideas going and build on Cornwall's considerable, assets and expertise to make this thing work and get a better economy for the people of Cornwall. There's great opportunities with the LEP and I hope this is recognised and we get the LEP off the back burner and on to the boil ASAP.