By Chair of the Humber LEP, Lord Haskins
Humber Business Week always provides a key opportunity to recognise the capabilities of our region, the strong relationships between our communities and the Humber’s many strengths. It is a time we also use to assess the challenges that lie ahead and explore what more we can achieve together.
One such event is our Annual Business Summit, held yesterday at Forest Pines Hotel – just a few miles away from British Steel’s flagship Scunthorpe plant. Fittingly this was our platform for launching our prospectus for a Humber Industrial Strategy: recognising that although there are some tremendous opportunities ahead for the Humber, there are also underlying vulnerabilities in our economy.
The Humber’s progress over recent years has been encouraging. We have embraced a new industry, offshore wind, and become a leading centre for it. We have welcomed investment from multinational businesses in a diverse range of sectors, expansion from SMEs and seen many more new businesses start up and grow. Our skills levels have improved, unemployment is substantially lower, and our economy has become more integrated – and therefore more competitive – since the tolls on the Humber Bridge were reduced. Regeneration is taking place across our region. The Humber now has a stronger track record of delivery and our reputation is deservedly improved.
However, continuing that momentum will be hard with uncertainty over Brexit, steel and in the medium term other energy-intensive industries. We must ensure our economy continues to adapt to secure its long-term sustainability.
Key to our plan is accelerating clean growth on the Energy Estuary – focusing on our ambition to make the Humber a net-zero carbon industrial economy by 2040. We want to deliver a transition which protects and supports the long-term competitiveness of strategically-important industries like steel, and maximises the benefits for local communities and businesses.
If this is to be achieved, it will make the Humber the first industrial region in the world to be at net-zero – but it will take a co-ordinated approach to decarbonisation across our economy and society, including energy, industry, business, the public sector, homes and transport alike to make it possible.
It has never been done before, but if it can be done anywhere it must be done on the Humber.
With the Humber emitting more CO2 than any other UK cluster (30% more than the next largest), and with the area especially vulnerable to climate change, decarbonisation is the most significant challenge, as well as the greatest opportunity, for the Humber economy over the next two decades.
Our region is already at the forefront of delivering this transition in the energy sector, and our ambition is to make the Humber Energy Estuary a world leader in clean energy generation. This includes supporting the further scale-up of offshore wind production, with the Government recently agreeing increased targets with industry for 30GW capacity by 2030 and 50GW by 2050. The Humber could support a significant share of the manufacturing, installation and ongoing maintenance required.
We can use this as a foundation to support and inspire the wider transition that will be required – with a carbon capture, utilisation and storage network, expanded hydrogen production and usage, and further development of the battery supply chain all areas where the Humber could specialise and the wider North could benefit.
We are also setting out proposals for shifting more freight to the Humber ports – relieving pressure in the congested south and opening up new value-added opportunities for the Humber, Yorkshire and beyond. This includes the further expansion of engineering and assembly activity, a part of manufacturing in which the Humber is seeing particular growth. However, we are concerned about capacity on the M62 and the lack of priority given to trans-Pennine rail freight, which will require addressing.
Through our engagement with businesses to date we have identified many opportunities and issues to be addressed for the Humber to continue its momentum. I believe that what we have developed is a distinctive approach, playing to the Humber’s strengths and looking at where we have the biggest opportunities for growth, but also a realistic one, recognising that we cannot be the best at everything.
I hope businesses and other organisations in the Humber and across Yorkshire will take a look at these proposals and I look forward to hearing their thoughts over the coming weeks.
The LEP’s Industrial Strategy Prospectus can be viewed at www.humberlep.org/industrialstrategy