WMN opinion: Rising prosperity must be felt in all parts of the West
There is absolutely no doubt about it, the economy – even here in the South West – is heading in the right direction once again. Businesses are increasingly optimistic, joblessness is down and orders and exports from Westcountry-based companies are up. Despite the perfectly natural inclination to avoid over-stating the recovery before it has really taken hold, pretty much all the signs now are positive.
Yet tell that to a resident of a number of Westcountry market towns, rural hamlets and certain inner city areas and they will lose no time in informing you they have yet to feel the benefit. It is well-documented that when there is a downturn the far flung parts of the rural Westcountry and the least prosperous of our urban areas are to the first to be affected. They are also the last to see a recovery.
Rising tides, the saying goes, raise all ships. And there is a certain logic in the assertion that as prosperity improves, initially in London and the South East and thence to regional centres like Bristol and Exeter, its impact starts to spread, like ripples in a pond. But the benefits are not universally felt. Pockets of deprivation – sometimes in the most unlikely places that would be seen as idyllic rural or coastal spots by outsiders – miss out.
But there is absolutely no question that in much of the region now, a significant improvement in fortunes has been recorded. As Chris Pomfret, chairman of the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly LEP, points out "A good barometer of that sentiment is the willingness of our local businesses to invest in sustainable growth." He is absolutely right. No one wants to back a declining market but when there is an upturn well and truly established, funds pile in. That is what is happening right now. Apprenticeships are up, work programme entrants are up and money is being pledged by businesses for match-funded schemes that bring in public sector investment.
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The trick now for the LEPs, the Government, local authorities and businesses themselves will be to make sure the benefits are felt as widely as possible, not just in the booming business parks and industrial estates around Exeter, but in the rather sleepier market towns of north and mid-Devon and Cornwall. There will always be those areas that race ahead when recovery comes and those that lag behind. But until every area of our region starts to share in the upturn we cannot truly have said to have left recession behind.