East Devon's MP Sir Hugo Swire today pressed the Government to support Exeter Science Park.
Sir Hugo said: "The main impediment to Exeter Science Park’s business growth is having to repay its expensive, commercial rate loans from the Local Enterprise Partnership. Exeter Science Park had to take £6.5 million of loans because grants were unavailable during its start-up phase in 2013. These loans were mainly from the Local Enterprise Partnership at a commercial rate. Private sector loans were unavailable because Exeter Science Park had no assets as they were held in trust by a local authority.
I want Ministers to look and see how we can use government capital infrastructure spending to reduce or ideally erase these debts. Secondly, the Government should look at how to encourage government-backed technology and projects to locate on this science park. If Ministers were able to assist on both these matters, it would provide a huge endorsement for our often-overlooked region".
Hugo's speech in full can be read below.
Economic growth in the South West, Tuesday 5th February 2019: Westminster Hall debate, UK Parliament
I would like to warmly congratulate my honourable friend, the Member for South West Devon, for securing this debate.
I know there are several organisations in the South West of England watching on with keen interest, not least the National Farmers Union, the Devon Chamber of Commerce, the Federation of Small Businesses, and the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership. I am sure Members enjoyed reading their briefings and the passion they conveyed for expanding the potential of our region.
I think the key question is how we can attract high-value, non-seasonably-dependent jobs, enhance our productivity, and secure clean economic growth in our region.
Admittedly, we have grown perhaps too accustomed to using terms such as productivity, growth and connectivity.
A notable example is the Government’s flagship Industrial Strategy. Its four ‘grand challenges’ put the UK at the forefront of the industries of the future: artificial Intelligence and data; ageing society; clean growth; and the future of mobility. As many honourable members here would no doubt agree, its comprehensive scope marks the Conservatives as the party with the long-term plan for our country.
No government nor multinational corporation is free of delving into obfuscation when we talk of economic growth. Yet let us step out of Whitehall-speak and the lexicon of glossy masterplans.
When we talk with our constituents in our email bulletins, meeting halls, surgeries and in our correspondence, we must tell them how investment will increase jobs and improve living standards.
I recently had the pleasure to visit Exeter Science Park again in my constituency of East Devon. Exeter Science Park helps innovative STEMM companies in its campus-style setting, covering sectors such as cyber-security and renewable energy. The site is on track to grow from 200 to 700 jobs by 2020, rising to 2100 jobs by 2027. The wider-region is well connected with immediate access to the M5, to the nearby Exeter International Airport, and to Exeter itself. I represent two wards in Exeter – St Loyes and Topsham – and I am pleased to say it will be one of the UK’s fastest growing cities over the next three years.
A practical example of outstanding growth is Luminous. This start-up is designing, developing and exporting state-of-the-art special effects hardware for the global entertainment industry. Its rate of jobs growth from one person to eight people in a mere 12 months is a trademark of the technology industry. Yet this is not in tech-savvy Shoreditch but in the heart of our region!
This is what economic growth looks like on the ground. It is new consumers, new careers, and a better quality of life.
The case for Exeter Science Park is strong as it seeks to add-on more buildings and expand its capacity. I am not speaking purely as the Member for East Devon but I am sure on behalf of my colleagues in the South West, who would like to see it thrive.
This is why I urge the Minister and other interested parties watching on today to get behind Exeter Science Park in order that it can fulfil its potential.
But, the main impediment to Exeter Science Park’s business growth is having to repay loans on its Science Park Centre.
Exeter Science Park had to take £6.5 million of loans because grants were unavailable during its start-up phase in 2013. These loans were mainly from the Local Enterprise Partnership at a commercial rate. Private sector loans were unavailable because Exeter Science Park had no assets as they were held in trust by a local authority.
So my first request of the Minister is to look and see how we can use government capital infrastructure spending to reduce or ideally erase these debts. Secondly, I ask the Minister how the government can assist in encouraging government-backed technology and projects to locate on this science park.
If the Minister were able to assist on both these matters, it would provide a huge endorsement for our often-overlooked region.
Why, for instance, would not an engineering giant such Rolls Royce or a defence contractor such as Babcock – already strong in Plymouth – not expand alongside innovative tech start-ups already here?
I know Members often lament at how our neglected South West gets limited airtime compared with other UK regions. Local authorities, LEPs, and businesses up and down the land compete vociferously for a pool of Government investment.
However, we should talk-up areas where our regional economy is doing well and talk practically about how we can do better. This is surely how to sell the benefits of economic growth to the public, and attract new, clean jobs and companies to the South West.