Manufacturers from across Cornwall held a Devolution Forum last Thursday to discuss Cornish devolution and the steps Cornwall Council must take to support manufacturing growth.
The roundtable event took place in St Austell and was organised jointly by the Cornwall Manufacturers Group (CMG) and EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation. It comes at an important time for business, which is currently battling rising business costs due to a flurry of recent policy announcements.
According to EEF, almost four in ten manufacturers (36%) identify rising business costs as a key risk this year. At the same time, the proportion of companies viewing the UK as a competitive place to do business has fallen from 70% in 2015 to 56% this year.
EEF analysis shows that manufacturing output in Cornwall outperformed the UK and South West average over the period 1998 to 2014 and held up particularly well in the face of the recession.
The group discussed how the Cornish devolution deal could help or hinder the region’s manufacturers. Specifically, company bosses looked at what business support is required in the region, local transport priorities and other local infrastructure issues that can impact company performance and the quantity and quality of skilled workers.
There was also discussion around changes to the business rates system and potential shortfall in Cornwall Council business rates income. EEF agreed to continue working to help clarify the impact once an expected Government consultation is conducted.
The group identified three key priorities for Cornish manufacturers that it wants Cornwall Council to take forward. These are:
Better collaboration between training centres to reduce the impact of geographic distances in Cornwall and make courses more viable. The Council should prioritise this as part of their work on reshaping further education training as set out in the Devolution Deal. As part of this the Council should also prioritise greater joining up of public transport provision and skills provision particularly in relation to apprentices being able to get to work and colleges.
The Council should focus on promoting Cornwall as a good place to do business to help attract more manufacturers to the region and to help bring investment into the county. The group agreed that good reasons for being located in Cornwall include: the stability of the workforce in Cornwall, the quality of life aspects which attract people to live and work in Cornwall, the strong culture of business networking and fraternity and the importance of the brand "Fresh from Cornwall", particularly for Food and Drink manufacturing.
Tackle cross-boundary transport issues, particularly in relation to Devon. Cornwall Council should start now in identifying how it can work more widely across the region to improve road and public transport provision, which can support growth and widen access to talent pools.
Lindsay Lewis, South West Region Manager at EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, says: “The view of business is an important part of this debate. Businesses have a vested interest in devolution and need to be engaged with local decision makers. Without this, we risk local authorities negotiating deals that could unknowingly end up damaging growth and hampering business opportunities.
Ken Martin, Company Secretary, Cornwall Manufacturers Group, says: “Devolution is uncharted territory and local manufacturers clearly want to ensure the best possible outcome for their businesses. Transport and infrastructure, business rates and skills are critically important to them so it’s vital that these are fully and properly addressed in any devolution deal. Going forward, it’s clear that local manufacturers know what their priorities are and need to ensure these are heard in the debate.”