The Island Economy

My Vision for Jobs and the Knowledge Economy

As mentioned, we currently earn between 70-90 percent of the national average, depending on which figures are used.  Our goal must be to come close to, and one day surpass, the national average.  That means we need a jobs agenda for the Island, and we need to attract high quality jobs, and train and educate our people for them.  In the past we have tried to grow our economy by increasing the size of our population. That has not worked.  We need specifically to attract jobs and invest in education and training.

We have a cluster of aerospace, marine, composites and renewable energy firms here.  We need to sell ourselves nationally to attract more firms in those supply chains.  In addition, we need to pitch to online, digital and creative businesses leaving London and heading to Brighton and Bournemouth and tempt them here instead, using quality life and an improving education system as part of our pitch.  We need to develop our renewables sector.  We need – and have – a Council which is supportive of business.  We need to be able to offer quality of life - so no overdevelopment.  We need ultra-fast broadband for much if not all of the Island and we need improvements to physical as well as energy and transport infrastructure.

Specifically, we need to persuade Government to share the costs with BAE to develop a Complex Radar Technology Demonstratorto ensure another half-century of world-leading radar technology on the Island.  This in turn will help create the demand for higher education advanced engineering courses here.

Regarding broadband, we need - and are getting - ultra-fast broadband for all the Island.  Thanks to a Government initiative and Wightfibre, we will be amongst the very first areas of the UK to have ultra-fast broadband, which means we will have some of the fastest speeds on the planet.  The initial deal covers most of the Island - five out of six homes - although some rural areas are not covered.  I will be fighting to make sure as much of the Isle of Wight is covered as possible.


Small Business, Farming & Tourism

A sizeable chunk of the Island’s economy is always going to be in tourism and farming.  It is critical, especially post-Brexit, that our policies support this part of our economy.

Regarding the rural economy, it is great to see independent food producers doing well.  Apart from creating great produce, the ‘foodie’ industry is important for our Island’s brand and a good source of local employment.  We produce some of Britain’s best cheeses, yogurts and breads, over and above our fabulous garlic and tomatoes.

Related to this, the County Landowner Association argues that the Island small-scale field structure is well suited to animal husbandry.  To encourage this, we need either an Island abattoir, or, post-Brexit, to change the law to allow for humane ‘home kill’ for the food market – effectively a mobile abattoir or slaughter person that can kill animals humanely and prepare them for the human food chain.  The National Farmers Union argues that we also need to improve our ability to store grain on the Island.

With all our local food, we need supermarkets to engage more to support local producers and reduce ‘food miles’.  This is particularly important in a separate community like the Island. Only the Co-op and ASDA have properly attempted to engage with local suppliers.  They should be congratulated.  The lesson for Islanders should be that we need to support our local food producers by going to village stores, or larger stories that stock Island produce, and we should not support those supermarket chains that cannot be bothered to support our Island.  We also need to work to improve the availability of Island produce to both residents and visitors, including public procurement in our schools, hospitals and care homes.

More generally - and yet again - the grant funding system is structured against us.  Government does not recognise water as a factor in assessing Remote Area Status.  We need this changed.  In a recent government grant scheme, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly were given 60 percent grant funding, when the Isle of Wight received 40 percent. 

And clearly, for our land use and environmental management, we need to support schemes which help preserve the landscape on the Island.

Regeneration Projects

The Council have six potential major regeneration projects.  Two of them in particular – Newport Harbour and Ryde Gateway – are critical to the future of the Island.  We need to get them right, and in both cases create spaces that generate wealth and showcase the best that the Island has to offer. 

The Newport Harbour project is probably the most important of these for the long-term future of the Isle of Wight.  This project, to my mind, must have a higher education campus (as already outlined) and it needs infrastructure to support the knowledge economy, including buildings to attract digital and start-up firms - although I accept that we will need to have some housing to help fund it.  If we are successful in extending railway lines from the current terminus in Wootton, the harbour should also be the new westbound terminus, with a Newport Harbour Station.

Ryde is also critical, although its success is more linked to the tourism and visitor economy.  Currently, Ryde Pier Head and Esplanade appear tired and give a poor impression to arriving visitors to the Island.  With a little creativity, both could be exciting areas that help showcase the Isle of Wight.