West needs to establish what it wants to be famous for says business leader

Andrew Hodgson KPMG South West

Andrew Hodgson is KPMGs South West Senior Partner

With a devolution deal now in place that will see the creation of a Metro Mayor in the South West, Andrew Hodgson, senior partner for KPMG in Bristol discusses the challenges and opportunities.

He comments: “Devolution brings with it huge opportunities to boost our local economy. But, there’s been a real oversight when it comes to infrastructure, which will seriously hinder the region’s devolution plans.

“The devolution deal doesn’t currently deal with the fact that the rail electrification plans for much of the region keep being pushed back.

“Nor that there’s no direct links between the region’s major airport and the local railway station. What it does do however is give more local powers over transport and infrastructure, but we now need a ‘step change’.

“Also challenging is the region’s ‘brand’. The West of England needs to establish what it wants to be famous for. The Industrial Strategy green paper launched recently talks about ‘place’ and provides a platform for driving the local economy and brand. Coupled with devolution, the region is well positioned to leverage these opportunities.

“The West of England is good at a lot of things – such as food and drink, aerospace and defence, specialist engineering and supporting early stage businesses – but if you asked someone elsewhere in Europe what the region is known for, I don’t think they’d be able to tell you. This alone shows the challenge if we are to get on a global stage and attract inward investment to the area and drive an economy that works for all.

Andrew continues: “With devolution comes the soon-to-be-elected Metro Mayor. To make the best of devolution and the industrial strategy and to drive the local economy the Metro Mayor needs to be an outstanding spokesperson.

“They need to really understand how to get the West of England brand out there, to bring the public sector and private sector together and to promote our sectors and business expertise. We also need someone who will make the most of the powers we are being given at a local level.

“They should, for example, look to Hinkley Point, and conclude on how the region can sell our expertise in construction and training in this area to the other nuclear power stations being planned in the UK.

“Residents and businesses in the region need to understand the opportunities and challenges. The Metro Mayor needs to be the voice of the West of England, getting our seat around the table with the Northern Powerhouse, Midlands Engine and with Whitehall. Above all, they need to be the single voice that bangs the drum to unite and represent our fantastic region.”