Phil Smith urges Whitehall to Back the West

Phil Smith
Managing Director | Business West
4th August 2017

The government must deliver on the Western Daily Press campaign to Back the West because, in simple terms, Bristol and the West represents great value to Whitehall.

The greater Bristol area is, outside of London, the only major English city to make a positive contribution to the Chancellor of the Exchequer.  Manchester is a net receiver as is its northern neighbour, Leeds. Likewise, Birmingham-part of the Midland’s Engine-doesn’t make a net contribution to the Treasury.

If the Chancellor was a CEO of a company, he would invest in his more profitable divisions.  It follows that if this government invests in Bristol the chances are that it will probably get more value for money than anywhere else in the country.

Surely that makes economic sense?

So, the big question posed to Philip Hammond by the Western Daily Press campaign must be: Just why isn’t the government investing even more in Bristol and the West?

Whitehall needs to understand just how important the South West is to the whole UK economy. In fact, in area terms, it is ten per cent bigger than the whole of Wales.  In terms of its population it is bigger than Scotland.

Taken these statistics, it seems unfortunate that the region has so little clout in Whitehall, particularly given that we have so many more Conservative government-supporting MPs than Northern Ireland.

We have some world class industries and companies. Take Airbus and Rolls Royce at Filton for example - they are the jewels in the crown of our regional economy. At Business West, we believe that the government must encourage these global companies to continue investing here particularly during a period that is currently very uncertain because of Brexit.

Following BMW’s encouraging decision to build its next electric car in this part of the world, whenever the decision time comes we similarly want Honda to decide to build the next Civic model in Swindon too. 

How can the government help companies like these standard bearers for the South West economy?  

More housing is one of the greatest areas where help is needed, so that ambitious young professionals working for these global companies - and great local companies like Renishaw in Gloucestershire - can afford to live here ensuring desperately needed skills are maintained.

Bristol, for instance, is a very desirable place - a vibrant city currently attracting top young engineers and lawyers. However, we will kill the goose that lays the golden eggs of our local economy unless we build more homes. Already in Bristol, we see average price homes selling for eight or nine times the average salary.

I think it is essential that the West establishes one clear voice for the region. Perhaps, despite our size and the strength of our economy, we have not been bold enough with government in Westminster.

They must realise that not to back us here in the West is a dereliction of their responsibilities to the people and businesses of this region and a waste to UK plc.

Business West runs the Chambers of Commerce in Bristol, Bath, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire.  Part of British Chambers of Commerce it lobbies government on key issues that affect businesses. Additionally, in the South West it delivers the contracts for Department for International Trade (DIT), Enterprise Europe Network (EEN) and Innovate UK - engaging with 21,000 businesses, helping them to start, grow, innovate and export. 


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