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Government ‘must not ignore value, impact and significance of rural areas to economy’

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County HallCounty HallThe government’s Industrial Strategy must not ignore the value, impact and significance of its rural areas to the economy.

That’s the view of Wiltshire Council, expressed in its official response to Government’s Industrial Strategy Green Paper.

Outlining its vision for Wiltshire as a resilient, sustainable and competitive economy characterised by a greater proportion of higher value, higher skilled jobs, the council says its priorities are to:

Make sure the county’s workforce is skilled and competitive Maintaina well-connected, reliable and resilient transport system to support economic and planned development growth Deliver excellence in digital connectivity to achieve business growth Deliver the infrastructure required to deliver planned growth and regenerate our City and Town Centres, and improve our visitor and cultural offer Strengthen the competitiveness of small and medium sized businesses, and attract a greater share of foreign and domestic investment into the area

The report says Wiltshire’s economy needs to remain competitive, sustainable and resilient with high levels of inward investment, a broad employment base, and a greater proportion of high value and skilled jobs.

And the government is warned: “We need a national strategy that helps support us achieve those objectives.”

“The Industrial Strategy must not ignore the value, impact and significance of its rural areas to the economy,” write the authors of the response.

“The Grant Thornton Vibrant Economy Index identifies Wiltshire as the most resilient and sustainable area of Britain and 20th overall of vibrant economic areas in the UK out of 324.

“The Nesta creative economy report 2016 identifies it as one of the highest growth creative clusters.

“There is a reason why companies like Dyson, Knorr-Bremse, Qinetiq, Apetito, Dolby, Wincanton, SciSys, Hermann Miller and Vectura are based here.”

The county features a number of unique assets that provide a foundation for economic growth including the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) at Porton, the underground bunkers at Corsham now housing major data storage companies like ARK, ex airfields like Colerne and Hullavington and the second longest runway in the UK at Boscombe, says the response.

Local public services and central government agencies have worked together to maximise the economic and social benefits of the military presence in Wiltshire.

And it says businesses have high survival rates and thrive because of Wiltshire’s infrastructure: links to other major economic zones, super-fast broadband, and proactive use of surplus public sector land for employment and housing.

But people in Wiltshire need better access to further and higher education courses through new university, college and university technical college provision to ensure that the future workforce is skilled for jobs emerging from our high-tech knowledge based industries, notes the report.

Alistair Cunningham, associate director for economy and planning at Wiltshire Council, said: “In Wiltshire we have been very successful at attracting investment, growing our economy and increasing jobs, especially high value ones, over the past few years.

“We are recognised as having one of the most vibrant economies in the UK and to enable us to continue on this path we are asking Government to recognise the differing needs of our urban and rural areas.

“We think it’s important to recognise the economic potential of the unique assets, such as the military, within the county and help us develop the skills of the local workforce.”