A possible doubling of the agri-food sector’s economic value in South Holland and wider Lincolnshire could be on the cards as part of Government plans for massive growth across the Midlands.
During a speech in Derby on Thursday, Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne set out their long-term plan to make the Midlands an “engine for growth” and create 300,000 jobs in the region over the next five years.
Mr Osborne then visited Lincoln’s biggest employer, Siemens – as it announced it had won a £30million contract to supply gas turbines to South America – to talk about some of the ways in which Lincolnshire will share in the drive for growth.
He said the announcements on developing Food Enterprise Zones were good news for businesses in South Holland and its young people seeking to work in the area where they grew up.
Greater Lincolnshire Enterprise Partnership (LEP) has been given £150,000 to develop strong business cases for three areas to become Food Enterprise Zones, South Holland, West Lindsey and North-East Lincolnshire.
According to the LEP, the new zones will unleash the entrepreneurial spirit of the countryside and food producers, making it easier for them to grow, and attract new businesses.
As well as attracting inward investment, Food Enterprise Zones will encourage closer ties between food and farming.
Food Enterprise Zones came to the fore when we asked the Chancellor about opportunities for South Holland’s young people.
Mr Osborne said: “I think the key to helping young people get the economic opportunities they need in the area where they grew up is to attract businesses and investments in.
“South Holland has got lots of enormous strengths in agriculture – it’s one of the best agricultural areas of Europe.”
He said the step towards creating Food Enterprise Zones would lead to “great careers in food production”.
The plans on the Food Enterprise Zones are new, but many of the measures that will boost the Midlands economy have been aired before, including funding for some major road schemes.
Mr Osborne said: “We are making major commitments to investment in transport and in skills. We want to make sure that there is a real opportunity for young people to get the skills they need so I am inviting local authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) here in Lincolnshire and elsewhere to give me proposals on that.”
Mr Osborne said he’s not giving a specific target on jobs for each county.
“What I am saying is, if you maintain our long-term plan, if you maintain the kind of rate of job creation that we are seeing at the moment, you will see 300,000 jobs across the next five years across the Midlands,” he said.
When it was pointed out that 20 per cent of people here are still on less than the minimum living wage, Mr Osborne said: “The best way to deal with poverty, to increase people’s wages, is to have successful businesses.”
The Chancellor said it was his “driving ambition” to make sure that the nation’s economic growth isn’t confined to London or the South.
“It happens across the country, it happens here in Lincolnshire,” he said.
Asked about the police funding formula – which has unfairly disadvantaged the county force – Mr Osborne said he is willing to review it, and also found words of praise for Lincolnshire Police.
He said: “I am always happy to look at proposals for changes to the formula. I represent a rural county in Parliament as well, in Cheshire, and I know the challenges that rural police forces face.
“I would take this opportunity to pay tribute to the officers of the constabulary here who have done a brilliant job and, of course, have had to make difficult decisions about where to put their resources – but the result is crime is down 20 per cent here and that’s a fantastic example of good, strong local policing, making the best possible use of taxpayers’ money.
“I think one of the things we have got to remember with all of these public services – like the police, like our National Health Service, like the education system – is that you can’t afford any of these things if you have not got a strong economy.
“A strong economy is the bedrock of strong policing.”
* It doesn’t appear there will be fresh tax breaks for landowners who invest in flood defences over and above those announced at the end of 2014.
When asked about tax relief for landowners and farmers, Mr Osborne said: “Flood defence – drainage – is such an important issue in this part of the world so at the most recent Autumn Statement, which I delivered to Parliament in December, I did announce tax breaks for people who invest in flood defences.
“Of course, alongside that, the Government needs to contribute as well.
“We are putting huge amounts to flood defence in this area because that preserves some of the best agricultural land in the world and the jobs that depend on it – so we are getting behind our rural communities just as we are getting behind our advanced manufacturers like Siemens.
“All of them make up for a strong UK economy, all of them make for an economy where we don’t put all of our bets on the city of London 100 miles to the south.”