Westcountry left trailing far behind UK economy
The Westcountry's economic difficulties have been laid bare after official figures revealed how the region trails behind much of the UK.
Productivity in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly was the fourth lowest of 134 regions across Great Britain, with wealth creation in the area 27% below the national average. Neighbouring areas were only in marginally better shape, but still well below the national average. Torbay is 21% off the pace, and Devon 14% below the national average. Plymouth is 8.2% away from the national benchmark.
Against claims London and the South East is propping up the British economy, there were calls in the region for the Government's flagship £2.6 billion regeneration fund to target the far South West.
Commentators also feel the region's poor transport links to the capital need improving as they are hampering efforts to create better-paid jobs after decades of industrial decline on the peninsula. George Eustice, Conservative MP for Camborne and Redruth, said: "The figures underline the importance of attracting new industries and creating better paid jobs in Cornwall.
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"To do this we should be getting priority when it comes to accessing the Regional Growth Fund, because too much has been targeted to northern regions, and we should continue to get support of EU structural aid investment into the future."
Tim Jones, chairman of the Devon and Somerset Local Enterprise Partnership, said: "We will be playing catch-up for as long as there are connection problems to the far South West. We need more road, rail and air investment, and we have to make the case for that in Whitehall."
Wealth creation was measured using a complicated formula taking into account the amount of the nation's GDP created per region, the number of workers there and the number of hours they work.
The Office for National Statistics analysis examined gross value added (GVA) per hour worked – the amount of wealth generated by a worker every hour in 2011.
The method eliminates the effects of unemployment and worklessness and measures only the value produced by those who are actually in jobs.
The worst-performing areas were largely rural or tourist regions – underling a reliance on low-paid, seasonal work – and depressed cities.
Inner London had the highest productivity level, with a GVA per hour worked 54% above the UK average in parts of London.
Outside London, regions with the highest productivity levels were Berkshire and Edinburgh – both with a GVA per hour worked more than 20% above the UK average.
Regions showing the lowest productivity levels were often, but not always, rural areas of the UK.
Powys and Gwynedd, both in Wales, had the lowest productivity at more than 30% below the UK average.
Only 29 out of 134 regions in Great Britain had GVA per hour worked above the UK average – 16 of which are in the South East.
The figures underline the case being argued for more EU regeneration cash to help the Westcountry to get back on its feet – though some will question whether more than 15 years of aid has been wasted given the parlous state of the economy.
English regions will from next year share more than £5 billion of Brussels structural aid to boost the poorest areas of the 27-nation bloc.
Since last year, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly have been expecting to receive the highest level of hand-out available as the area remains in the category of the most impoverished corners of Europe.
In February, David Cameron confirmed Devon as one of 11 UK regions to get the second-highest level of support available – a status that was in doubt and risked leaving the area's economy being overtaken by neighbouring Cornwall's.
Since the mid-1990s, around £1 billion of structural aid have been pumped into Cornwall, which has paid for one of the fastest broadband connections in Europe, the development of Newquay Airport and the Combined Universities in Cornwall project.
For decades, business leaders have been pushing for the notorious A303 between London and the South West to be widened, and they have been buoyed by the Government's Budget commitment of an extra £3 billion a year to big building projects from 2015.
Critics also fear the London-to-Penzance Great Western line – which left the region marooned by rail three times last year because of floods – needs heavy investment and faster trains. The resilience of the rail network is now seen as even more important following the loss of Plymouth's air link.