Much has been said about the need to rebalance the economy, but is it not time we started looking into rebalancing the country, writes John Stevenson MP.
Just as relying on financial services as the main economic driver proved to be a mistake, we are taking the same risk in depending on London as the only economic engine driving the country.
Cumbria, which is as far away as you can get from London in many ways, is affected by this incongruous economy. Wages are lower than the national average, educational attainment is lower, and there are pockets of real poverty. If the economy were to diversify, it is regions like Cumbria that would feel the benefit.
But there is little point in complaining about our current circumstances. What we need to do as a county is emphasise and play to our strengths whilst also addressing our weaknesses.
The most obvious strength in Cumbria is tourism. We have the Lake District – the most popular tourist attraction outside London attracting more than 15 million visitors a year. We also have Hadrian’s Wall – a world heritage site which crosses the northern part of the county.
There is a strong manufacturing base in the county, with real variety – defence, food, and nuclear, and a range of internationally recognised companies within the county – BAE, GlaxoSmithKline, Nestle and Pirelli to name just a few.
And to the west is the developing “Energy Coast”, which comes with the possibility of a nuclear plant build. The economic potential of such a construction, if thought through properly, is huge – directly, as a result of skill, manpower and industry required to maintain such a plant and indirectly through the inevitable support that will be required from the local supply chain.
Cumbria does, however, have some weaknesses – its distance from the large cities in the region like Manchester and Liverpool, let alone London; the local geography; and lack of population to name but a few.
But these are all problems that can be overcome.
By improving the infrastructure within the county, and connections to other parts of the country, distance and geography become much less of a problem, especially in this digital age. Up-skilling the local workforce and attracting talent to the county as well as improving educational performance at all levels, from primary education to apprenticeships and degrees, will attract new business to the county, and help existing businesses to grow and develop.
Perhaps our greatest challenge within the county is leadership. We need leaders who will provide vision and a sense of direction. Leaders who will promote Cumbria on the national and international stage whilst ensuring that weaknesses are identified and overcome.
For all that can be done and should be done to rebalance the economy and the country, it is in the hands of Cumbria itself where its own destiny lies.