We simply cannot underestimate the importance that the South West places on an early decision by the new Prime Minister on the future of EDF’s Hinkley Point C project. That decision, we are promised, will come next month and I make no political point in saying that many companies in this region are hoping that the government’s review of the project will now result in a positive go ahead for Hinkley.
I have also to be honest and say that Business West needs the Prime Minister and her new business minister, Greg Clark, to realise that for over six years the UK nuclear industry and the South West have been anxiously navigating various degrees of uncertainty while waiting for EDF’s board to approve Hinkley Point.
In a recent letter to the government, Nuclear South West-a subsidiary of Business West-made it clear we need a decision on Hinkley quickly.
Business West recognises that Hinkley offers massive opportunities for this region in terms of skills, jobs and inward investment. We are concerned that delay will have a ripple effect on existing and potential West Country supply chains for this massive construction project and be a blow to our economy; an economy that post Brexit sorely needs such confidence boosting high profile investments.
Our final concern revolves around UK energy supply security. We know that with ageing nuclear plants and the closure of carbon generating coal fired power stations a significant part of our electricity supply will disappear over the next 15 years. UK business needs to know the lights won't go out and finding low carbon, base energy sources that don't rely on the wind blowing or sun shining is an essential part of the energy mix. New nuclear fits this bill.
This is not to say that Business West isn't fully supportive of the development of new energy sources in which the South West is also a leading light. And such research includes the fantastic academic leadership of Oxford and Bristol Universities of the soon to be officially launched South West Nuclear Hub which seeks to take nuclear power generation into a whole new sphere.
But back to the here and now, and the stark realities of the Prime Minister's pressing decision. An updated analysis of the economic and social benefits of Hinkley Point C says that our South West economy is set to be boosted by almost £4 billion over the life of the project.
During the building of the power station, the gross value to the regional economy is estimated to be over £200 million for each year of core construction. Overall, something like 25 000 job opportunities over the construction period and some 900 operational jobs will be created during the 60 years that Hinkley is due to supply low carbon electricity.
And we have today learned that South West firms have been successful in winning contracts for services to the proposed power station worth over £465 million. Something like 650 jobs will be created from these contracts alone.
Local companies have been encouraged to band together to create new supplier alliances and to gain the qualifications and capacity to bid for work. With the backing and support of our neighbouring Somerset Chamber of Commerce, local firms joining together has been a key factor behind the success of these South West companies to leverage scale and expertise. In fact, more than 3000 Somerset and South West businesses have already registered their interest on Hinkley’s supplier database.
These contracts, of course, depend on Hinkley getting the green light and that is why we urge the Prime Minister to give us that decision on Hinkley without further delays. We owe it to these companies to be clear on the future with the project as they make important investment and recruitment decisions.
We believe that the decision on Hinkley should be one of the new Prime Minister’s highest priorities when she returns from holiday. While we do understand she needs to review the project’s costs and complexity, she must also see Hinkley as a major infrastructure project for Britain—it will, of course, be the largest building project in Europe.
The government must also realise that the South West is a region that has too often been ignored by Whitehall. We have world class companies here who will wish to play their part in the development of Hinkley.
Please don’t keep us waiting.