Bill Clinton had a slogan in his Presidential campaign headquarters – “It’s the economy, stupid!” What was true 21 years ago in the US has even more validity in Britain today. I never miss an opportunity to talk up Bristol as England’s most prosperous city region, a powerhouse of entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation.
Prosperity means jobs. Across the country over 1 million new jobs have been created since 2010. Unemployment has been falling steadily in Bristol for the last year and the number of people in work is at an all time high. Our city is a centre of excellence for aerospace, digital media and professional services. Those sectors are complemented by two universities that excel in research and technical training. A great example would be the Robotics Centre, run jointly by Bristol University and UWE.
Government is contributing to the growing Bristol economy by some targeted investment in the region. Vince Cable often mentions the National Composites Centre, which he opened in 2011, where there is the combination of research and innovation necessary to keep Britain a world leader in aerospace. The centre is modelled on the German “catapults” that have kept Germany ahead of the rest of Europe in manufacturing. As Secretary of State for Business, Vince is reviewing each sector of the economy and making sure government is a facilitator not an obstruction to growth.
The German lead in manufacturing is not just down to their technical innovation. They also have a highly skilled workforce. Britain is now catching up, with a massive expansion in the number of apprentices. Over the last year I have been visiting a variety of Bristol businesses in order to meet their apprentices. These have included world leading large companies such as Rolls Royce as well as smaller businesses in the aerospace supply chain.
An apprenticeship is a great way to acquire a well regarded qualification. Not every young person has achieved the good grounding at school or college to start an apprenticeship. Charities such as the Prince’s Trust can get people on to the right path. The government is going to help soon as Vince wants to push “traineeships” as a bridge to an apprentice place. Youth unemployment is much lower in Britain than most European countries but I want Bristol to be a city where no young person who can work is left languishing on welfare payments.
So the focus of Liberal Democrats in government is on growing a stronger economy and a fairer society where everyone can get on in life. I wish our coalition partners would realise that banging on about whether Britain should stay in the EU puts at risk our future prosperity. Bristol and Britain will prosper only if we remain a strong participant in the world’s largest single market.
Note – this article was written for the Bristol Post and published on 12th July 2013.