THE town’s long march towards economic recovery got a shot in the arm yesterday as the Government announced a new deal for Swindon and Wiltshire.
Swindon was among a further 20 areas which will benefit from the so-called City Deals, the brainchild of Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, in an attempt to boost economic growth by handing local authorities greater autonomy.
The Swindon and Wiltshire deal focuses on unlocking the economic potential of the area’s military presence by freeing up existing redundant MoD sites and using the skills of military personnel to support business growth.
The bid, which was submitted in January, included the provision of funding for 2,000 degrees so universities will compete to deliver the courses in Wiltshire and Swindon to improve the skills of the local workforce; a ‘land-bank’ of public-owned land, including military sites, to identify where appropriate economic development could take place and devolution of the funding process for apprenticeships, skills and research to local authorities and the business community so the required skills are developed.
Swindon’s MPs welcomed the news as they hoped it would help kick-start economic recovery in the town and said it was a tonic for recent bad news, including 800 job losses at Honda.
Justin Tomlinson, MP for Swindon North, said: “This is absolutely fantastic news for Swindon and Wiltshire. It shows the Govern-ment’s commitment to help drive local growth and our successful bid was one of the most unique and tangible proposals put forward.”
Robert Buckland, MP for Swindon South, said: “Both Justin and I lobbied ministers very hard to secure this and I look forward to more work being done to help secure jobs and growth for our area.
“I am delighted the Government has accepted our bid.”
Swindon Council leader Roderick Bluh said it was “further recognition of Swindon and Wiltshire’s huge potential in driving regional economic growth”.
“There’s a good reason why so many major businesses are here already, and this will help attract more investment,” he said.
“The 2,000 extra higher education places this deal hopes to deliver will boost the employment chances of young people, and give businesses the skills they need employees to have.
“Another key benefit of the deal is a consistent approach to decision-making right across Swindon and Wiltshire.”
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said: “Even more places will be free from Whitehall control and have the tools to power their own growth.
“These deals help cities and their wider areas make once in a generation changes that will be felt by everyone across their region.
“Letting go of power and money doesn’t come naturally to Whitehall. Over time, the economic importance of other parts of the country has been devastatingly downplayed, as the economic elite have narrowed the debate towards a London-centric view.
“Rather than let our industries and communities wither, we need to free up cities outside of London that have their own unique selling points.”
Following careful assessment of the bids – which are judged on whether they are ambitious, robust and can attract private sector investment – the Government decided to enter negotiations with every city on a staggered timeline.
The Government will now work closely with cities, which include Reading and Oxford, to develop the proposals and negotiate a final deal.