Happy new year to you, Mr Speaker, and to everyone else. The two local enterprise partnerships covering the area—Cornwall and Isles of Scilly LEP, and Heart of the South West LEP, which includes Devon—are receiving £317 million through the local growth fund to drive regional development. That includes a £3 million investment in the Electronics and Photonics Innovation Centre at the White Rock business park in Paignton, which helps to support skilled jobs in a key local growth sector.
As my hon. Friend mentions, Torbay’s £8 million EPIC centre will open later this year, helping to boost our vital photonics industry. What further support can his Department offer to help boost Torbay’s high-tech sector?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on everything he does for employment in this area and in his constituency. He knows that my Department is working with Heart of the South West LEP, which is leading the development of our local industrial strategy. Torbay is actively engaged in that work. I believe the strategy will identify the particular strengths of the region and future opportunities for increased productivity, including in sectors such as photonics.
The development of marine industries in Plymouth and across Devon and Cornwall is a really important part of our local economy. Will the Minister agree to meet a delegation from Plymouth to look at how the creation of the UK’s first national marine park could trigger more investment in our marine technologies and industries in the west country?
It would be a pleasure. The hon. Gentleman and I have met before to discuss such subjects, and I am happy to do so again.
In my constituency, 85% of employees are employed in small businesses, which tell me they struggle to find the skilled workers they need. What can my hon. Friend’s Department do with the Treasury and the Department for Education to ensure that small colleges in particular have the funding they need to provide those skills?
As my hon. Friend knows, my Department is part of the picture; he correctly says the DFE is responsible for skills, but that is an important part of our industrial strategy, both nationally and locally. We are really pushing to put the skills agenda at the top of LEP programmes and everything else to do with that, because we realise, as he says, that small business will power the economy of the future.
The south-west is one of the fastest growing economic areas in the country, predominantly in tourism and tech. With the devaluation of the pound, many people have decided to have holidays in Cornwall, and we have tech-based businesses such as Microtest, a health-based solutions company in my constituency. People are making lifestyle choices about where in the country they want to live. What more can we do to facilitate moves away from the city to the coast?
As someone with previous experience of business in the south-west, in the tourism industry, I understand exactly what my hon. Friend says. The Government’s strategy is very much based on regional devolution—LEPs in particular—and areas such as his will see the benefits of that in the future.