Nine months of talks with Government over Plymouth City Deal
PARTNERS in Plymouth's City Deal team are embarking on nine months of crucial talks with the Government to hammer out a master-plan that will bring a huge economic boost to the area – particularly based around marine industry.
Last month Plymouth was chosen by Westminster as one of 20 locations to be fast-tracked to a City Deal.
It means Plymouth – as fulcrum for a scheme which also includes areas of Devon, Cornwall and Somerset – is set to benefit from devolved powers which will allow it to prioritise development projects and decide how and where Government cash will be spent.
Plymouth's plan aims to unlock commercial opportunities in marine sciences, renewable energy and other technologies, with a brief to boost exports.
Senior staff at organisations including Plymouth City Council and Plymouth University are already busy on the project.
They are backed by city organisations such as South West Marine Energy Park (SWMEP), Plymouth Chamber of Commerce, the Growth Acceleration and Investment Network (GAIN), City College Plymouth, dockyard operator Babcock, Princess Yachts and Plymouth Marine Laboratories.
And, because the City Deal will extend way beyond Plymouth's boundaries, it involves the Heart of the South West and Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnerships, and councils including Devon, Cornwall, West Devon, South Hams and Torbay.
The City Deal is being widely viewed as having the potential to boost business and create jobs.
"We now have nine months working with a team of advisors from the Government to set out how this will happen," Council leader Tudor Evans said, adding that background work would be "extremely extensive" involving high-level key officers from all authorities and organisations involved.
The City Deal does not involve extra Government funding – but it can give the city powers to unlock existing pots of cash and direct them to specific desired objectives.
It could also cut red tape, maximise the use of public sector assets and help partners plan and redesign services such as the development of export and investment strategies.
"More than anything it is an opportunity to ensure Plymouth, and its surrounding area, ups its game by concentrating on one economic sector – marine technology," Cllr Evans said.
"This includes renewables, science and supporting technologies, where we are already showing the potential to be world leaders.
"The Government will be helping us make this happen."
Professor Julian Beer, Plymouth University's Pro Vice-Chancellor (Regional Enterprise), said: "I can't emphasise strongly enough the opportunity the City Deal presents for us. It will be trail-blazing."
He said "the exciting bit" is the freedom it gives for City Deal areas to negotiate with the Government on how to spend cash, particularly prioritising "bespoke" funding.
He said this could be used to tackle key issues for Plymouth and the wider South West such as low productivity, and the region's peripherality and "invisibility".
"People see us for tourism, leisure and our physical assets, not as a hotbed of innovation, although, I think, we are that," he said.
Prof Beer said it makes sense for the City Deal to focus on the marine science and industrial arena, in which the region already has global expertise.
"It's a really big sector, and very broad," he said. "Our USP is marine."
But he stressed other sectors such as creative industries, health, biomedical and advanced manufacturing are important too, and ripe for support, and highlighted the push for exports as a key driver.
He said the City Deal bid would involve talks with various Government departments, with bids to access cash pots, for example Technology Strategy Board funding, to ensure Plymouth is getting its share.
"In the City Deal, through GAIN, we will be supporting all these businesses," he said. "But the big one for us, in terms of potential, is marine."