James Heappey Weekly Column

Last week I had an excellent meeting with the Chief Executive of our Local Enterprise Partnership to discuss our vision for developing the economy in Devon and Somerset. That vision is then expressed to Government as part of our Local Industrial Strategy which will shape how the funding is allocated to our region. The LEP is a partnership between local businesses, the local authorities and our universities and a significant amount of work has gone in to thinking through what we're already good at and what our region naturally lends itself to for the future. I was broadly impressed.

Our incumbent defence and aerospace industries and our growing clean energy sector were the centerpieces alongside the developing expertise in data - particularly environmental data - that is concentrating around the Hydographic Office in Taunton and the Met Office in Exeter. These are all excellent high value, future proof industries that will foster strong local supply chains and require a good mix of skills within our workforce. Our more traditional industries of food and farming are in the Strategy also but I have expressed a concern that when they are arguably the things for which our region is best known, they should be more prominent. Agri-tech is a sector that is growing quickly as farmers seek to decarbonise, automate and generally do their business in the most productive but environmentally sound way possible.

Thereafter we have a lot of food manufacturing facilities in our region and, again, they are increasingly employing very advanced production line machinery and techniques. Yet the machinery is mostly German or Italian. A focus on Agritech and advanced food and drink manufacturing could reinforce our position as a leading food and drink producer and grow export opportunities not only for our produce but also for our production expertise.