Looking forward to the next year, business in Gloucestershire has a real opportunity of rejuvenating itself through the government’s new apprenticeship levy.
While sceptics have, somewhat unfairly in my view, described the levy as a “stealth tax” on those companies with wage bills over £3million, we believe it represents a golden opportunity to enhance and entrench working traditions in the county. Gloucestershire is the county where the jet engine was born, and became known internationally as a hub for specialist engineering skills, mainly in the aerospace sector.
Ten years ago, Gloucestershire Media through the Citizen and the Gloucestershire Echo, launched the Apprentice Challenge campaign which is now being rejuvenated to meet the demand for young people with skills.
Apprenticeships are a springboard to the creation of highly skilled, well paid and rewarding jobs with famous Gloucestershire companies like Renishaw and Messier Dowty - both passionate flagwavers for apprenticeships.
While the 0.5% levy rate might be a pain for some, it will have widespread and long lasting impact on promoting inclusive growth across the region.
And I believe that the long awaited Skills Board for the county will finally come to fruition. This is vital to encourage and drive the skills we so direly need to
remain competitive, particularly in the engineering sector.
However, I think the government must do a far better job in explaining the apprenticeship levy more fully to compa nies. So far, there is something of a fog in their communication process with the result that many businesses are unenthusiastic about the levy that starts in April. Encouraging young people into apprenticeships is vital but equally important is that those young people must be able to buy affordable homes in what is generally an expensive county to live.
That is why I would hope the councils who have been mulling over the Joint Core Strategy on planning for about seven years now really get their finger out.
We are currently so far behind our new homes target of 5,000 a year that it is affecting the retention of those good young apprentices to stay here. Only about 1800 new homes are being built in Gloucestershire every year. Jobs, and good jobs are inextricably linked to the availability of affordable new houses.
After a nail-biting year of indecision, the government finally gave the go-ahead to Hinkley Point C, which will transform the UK’s energy supply and at the same time add to the prosperity of Gloucestershire through the company’s large facility at Barnwood.
EDF, of course, have awarded contracts worth many millions of pounds to companies throughout the South West and this will have a knock-on effect to employment prospects for local people and business for Gloucestershire companies.
I hesitate to mention the “missing link” on the A417. I have been living in the county for fifteen years, and like many motorists, I am heartily fed up with huge traffic queues coming into the county and bottlenecks on Crickley Hill. The cost to business too is huge.
If promises by Whitehall to the county council are to be kept for “spades in the ground” on the project by 2020, we must see some real planning action in the coming year to ensure there are no further delays.
On infrastructure, I would also like to see Gloucestershire start to really get serious about a new Severn crossing at Lydney—a pipe dream for so long-which now seems somewhat more realistic. Certainly, it would breathe a whole new lease of life into the Forest of Dean so often ignored as one of the county’s jewels.
For much of our business, this year, of course, has been dominated by Brexit. It is hard to believe that it is only just over six months ago that the decision to leave the EU was made.