Colin Skellett – Executive Chairman of Wessex Water
Can you tell readers about yourself – and your role as Executive Chairman of Wessex Water?
“I joined Wessex Water in 1974 and have worked in lots of roles within the company and the wider water industry. I became Chief Executive in 1988, which is when the water industry was going through privatisation under Margaret Thatcher.
For 10 years, Wessex Water was a publicly quoted company before it was bought by Enron in 1999. When Enron collapsed, it was taken over in 2002 by YTL – who are a Malaysian conglomerate.”
You are also Chairman of the West of England (WOE) Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) – can you explain what the LEP is and its vision for the region?
“The West of England Local Enterprise Partnership was set up after the Regional Development Agencies were abolished by the coalition government. It is a public/private organisation that is focused on economic gorwth and creating jobs.
“This area has a long-history of local authorities and business organisations working together and the LEP is an extension of this work.
“We work across eleven different sector groups looking at what each individual sector can do; what are the obstacles and how can they be removed. The LEP has a simple approach and is focused on four key areas.
“Places to create new business, the infrastructure to support it, the skills we need and effective marketing and encouraging inward investment. To find out more about the LEP see here.”
The LEP has a vision to create 95,000 jobs by 2030 – what are the key sectors these will come from?
“This is not a soviet planned economy that can make exact predictions and map out where growth and prosperity will come. It is about enabling and encouraging sectors to grow. We have particularly strong sectors in creative, digital services, green technolgoies and aerospace.”
To many the LEP can seem abstract and unrelated to their day to day. What difference do you feel it is making?
“It has got momentum and is starting to deliver, but of course the jury is still out. If you look in North Somerset for example, JCT 21 Enterprise Area has development under way but we need to work out how we deliver projects such as the Leisuredome which will produce significant numbers of jobs.
“The West of England is growing, there are more young people who will drive the economy. And the difference the LEP can make is to attract key businesses and work with universities and colleges to ensure we produce the skilled workforce we need for the future.”
What key challenges do you feel North Somerset faces as a region?
“The only real challenges are those that we create for ourselves. We are really well positioned and need to have the confidence to realise that the opportunities are far greater than the challenges.
“For example, in terms of high-technology businesses Bristol and the surrounding area is second only to Silicon Valley. And we are competing internationally – in terms of GDP per head the West of England region is third in the UK and around 40th in Europe, with Frankfurt in Germany the first.
“Of course we can’t wipe away what is happening nationally but we need to push on and grasp the opportunities that present themselves. And we must not forget our roots – tourism is important and a huge generator of wealth.”
Wessex Water is a huge employer that has committed massive infrastructure spending across the south west. As head of this organisation what do you feel about the debate on the UK’s role in Europe?
“I believe that we need to be in Europe because of our position as an international trading country. Obviously lots of things need to change but the idea we can be insulated from Europe isn’t right.
“It’s the Severn Barrage writ large – the more it is discussed and debated the more confidence can drain away. Too much time talking about how we want to leave Europe can erode confidence and make business think – do we actually want to invest in the UK?
“I think we need to get the issue of European membership out of our system. We do need to change and negotiate our position and push hard for change; but from within. We need to be part of Europe but make it more efficient.”