Focussing on a post-Covid world is of huge importance, not just because there is a necessity to prepare for a landscape that will have been obliterated by job losses but, it is about the only thing we can look forward to at this present time.
It is not my intention to depress readers but to inform them that local groups such as Torbay Together, the Heart of the South West, MPs and councillors, alongside local business leaders across the region, have their sights firmly set on what will be needed to ensure employment and opportunity can be found across the region in the near future.
Of late, I have been supporting proposals to create a British Development Bank. Such an institution would be hugely impactful in providing long-term funding for major infrastructure projects.
Germany created one in 1991 to help bridge the infrastructure gap between East and West Germany. Twenty-nine years on and KfW, the German Development Bank, continues to unlock private capital to spend on public infrastructure. In fact, one euro in ten spent on infrastructure comes from KfW.
If the UK were to create a new organisation such as this, that had learnt from the mistakes of PFIs but studied the success of the British Business Bank and the Commonwealth Development Corporation, then the ability to close not just the north-south gap but also to level up across every region of the United Kingdom could be achieved.
Here in the South West, our digital and transport infrastructure lags far behind and is a barrier to those who wish to work and invest in the area.
Infrastructure is key and something that cannot be discussed enough. But alongside the improvement of our road, rail and digital networks it is essential that we focus on enhancing skills.
At the end of September, the Prime Minister announced ‘a major expansion of post-18 education and training to level up and prepare workers for a post-Covid economy’.
The lifetime skills guarantee will see those without A-levels (or the equivalent of) be given the chance to take free college courses valued by employers. Additionally, there will be a new entitlement to flexible loans allowing courses to be taken in segments and to enhance technical skills.
This offer will be available from April and funded through the National Skills Fund, a list of those courses available will be published shortly.
The important point of this new proposal is it offers an opportunity to retrain and re-skill throughout our entire lives. The need to pick up new skills, I believe, is to become a constant in all our lives.
Here in the South West, I am continually amazed by the extraordinary range of skills and talent we have based within our towns, villages and rural areas.
Scratch the surface of any of our communities and you find those who hold traditional skills in carpentry, thatching, fishing and farming, or new skills such as coding, photonics development or oceanographic and hydrographic manufacturing.
We have a diverse range of industries, as well as being home to key service sectors such as tourism and hospitality. All these skills and sectors need to be supported and the national skills scheme is just the platform to help develop and expand in these areas.
Physical infrastructure is only one part of the jigsaw.
To provide the growth and opportunity we need, we must cultivate those new and traditional sectors by providing the facilities to encourage a new generation to learn the requisite skills.
We have a shining example in the form of South Devon College, but we must go further and ensure people recognise the opportunity to have lifelong careers here in the South West.