Soooo, the Managing Director of EDF Energy, Humphrey Cadoux-Hudson, gets into a cab on his way to Sedgemoor District Council’s ‘Made in Somerset’ Business Conference at the McMillan Theatre and the taxi driver says “Oh yes mate, Bridgwater’s the place to be these days, don’t need to bother with yer Tauntons, and it’s yer ‘Inkley Point that’s what it is.” Well, true or not it was a good opening line for a Conference dedicated to that very premise – but is it true? I went along to the event and took copious notes and a few photos.
‘Popular’ (sic) local Tory MP Ian Liddell-Grainger, opened his speech to the conference by reminding people “16 years ago Bridgwater was known just for a dodgy smell on the M5 and a papier mache camel” and then went on to say how much things had improved in recent years, but, fortunately not forgetting to mention the almost daily traffic accidents on that same M5 and the resulting never-ending traffic chaos and how we needed a ‘smart’ motorway. ILG managed to follow up this nostalgic gem by pouring scorn on the A303 as a route into the west country and wondering why the Neolithic people built Stonehenge so close to it. Moving on to Hinkley Point safety he threw in the fact that “some pools there are so radioactive that if you fell in you wouldn’t even get the chance to kiss your mother goodbye”.
So, having reassured people about the transport and safety effects of Hinkley he then had a go at team building. Sometimes, you may have noticed, the Rt Hon Ian maybe says slightly the wrong thing. However, on other occasions he talks a good talk. Now he chose to mention ‘working together’ and name checked several of us Labourites sitting together and mildly wincing in a darkened corner. But he’s right to do that. Because IF Hinkley is to be the panacea to all our ills round these parts, and so long as it doesn’t explode, then we have to work together to make the case for getting the maximum benefits for it. Yes, there’s traffic chaos – that hasn’t been helped by EDF refusing our demands that they build a by-pass in preference for just tweaking junctions, and now that the shipments of nuclear waste ‘through’ (not ‘around’) the town are in the news the stakes have been raised a bit.
The ‘positive’ case for Hinkley is easily made by people as erudite as ILG or otherwise and from many different angles – 2,400 workers now on site, accommodation being built for 2,500 workers on 2 sites, 100 apprenticeships up and running now with 1,000 more planned, £200 million into the local economy, 50% local workforce (remembering that ‘local’ means including a 90 mile travel to work radius) and a major supply chain with 120 companies lining up to feed the epicentre. All this is of course the sort of thing that economic dreams are made of. SO…there is no case for working against this and a good case for making sure we have a slice of whatever crumb of the action that’s coming our way.
But there are of course major problems. One of them is Brexit. And the uncertainty it brings. Some speakers touched on it. Rich Clothier of Wyke Farms whilst saying what a fantastic brand Britain is for export admitted that 75% of his trade is with Europe. And then reminded ILG that his trade depended also on the A303. Karl Tucker from Yeo Valley said his marketing was “unashamedly British”, then adding that about 50% of his workers were European migrants. Maybe missing his vocation in life as a stand-up comedian he concluded “We use 40 million tons of packaging which, if you stood it all up……would fall over.” Which may be an allegory for the Brexit talks.
Still ILG had an answer “You don’t need to re-invent the wheel, you just need to go and pinch it from someone else”. Unwittingly describing the whole economic basis of the British Empire, which, seems to be what a lot of Brexiteers yearn for….
But amongst his bluster and point missing, ILG said somethings which weren’t daft. The traffic infrastructure of the Bridgwater area is diabolical and needs sorting. The floods demonstrated this. When Sedgemoor was flooded a few years back major through routes were cut off. ILG suggested “Nothing will work if people think we’re going to be underwater!”. We agree with him that it’s ‘Not acceptable”. That has to not happen again. The tidal barrier is a major piece of infrastructure that we need in Bridgwater – but not just for the flooding, also for the other opportunities it could bring. We want the river navigable, we want the docks and canal open and we want to use our waterways for tourism and environmental improvements. Message – don’t just accept what you’re given, demand more.
ILG doesn’t really need to argue with his political opponents. His vote goes up each election anyway. But EDF and SDC and definitely SCC need to make their case.
The future is ….nuclear…..or maybe…unclear
David Eccles, the EDF ‘front of house’ man was rushing round the conference like a fly with a particularly blue body part, at one point knocking over a table full of coffee on some guests and leaving Labour Parliamentary candidate Wes Hinckes to thoughtfully clean it up. No change there. And could I get him to pose by a door holding it open so I could offer the caption “EDF – opening doors for people”? No. Another missed opportunity.
But EDF are, like them or not, leaders for the local economy. Their presence, like it or not, is providing opportunity, whether it’s higher skills and training for the increasingly expanding Bridgwater College, currently on 25,000 students and growing, and soon to include a specific ‘nuclear’ centre at Cannington, or whether it’s the crucial knocking opportunity of its ‘supply chain’ – all the businesses that supply the businesses that supply Hinkley. The Somerset Larder alone has some 100 staff at a 700-seat restaurant and provides 65,000 meals a month using locally sourced produce. That’s the supply chain personified there.
The point of the Conference -now in its 9th year – is for Sedgemoor to tell people how business friendly they are as a local authority and to big up the business community and itself at the same time. Treat things in a business-like fashion, take a leaf out of the way business looks at things. But, really it has to be a bit wider than that. Business is ‘part’ of what happens in an economy but there has to be a wider dimension to the life of a community than slogging your guts out from 9 to 5 and watching every penny. There’s, maybe ‘fun’. There’s ‘art’ there’s ‘culture’ and there’s ‘leisure’ there’s ‘sport’ and there’s ‘the people that make up a community’.
‘Bad People’ need not apply
Tourism and Culture is something that Bridgwater needs to consider in tandem. We have an abundance of opportunity in this respect. This was never clearer than when Canadian Bob Montgomery from the Longleat estate (now ‘Longleat Enterprises Ltd’) took the stage and told us how he’d turned that place around from a little , maybe ‘naïve’ idea the Marquis of Bath had once to put some lions in a field and get people to come and look at them, who can forget the slogan ‘We have seen some Lions in a field near Frome”, but apparently that was all a bit amateurish and eventually not a big (enough) money spinner, so he’d taken over and turned it round (this seemed to involve sacking 8 out of 9 of his top staff with the cheerful slogan ‘they weren’t bad people, but they had to go’) and made it a modern brand which was now pulling in the bucks. Oddly, his big idea was a ‘festival of light’ – a massive lit up Chinese lantern style exhibition of illuminated displays in the ground of a stately home. Well, a few of us thought, ‘we have this in Bridgwater and we’ve had it for a few hundred years, what’s he telling us this for’.
Bridgwater already has the future in it’s past
But the point here is Bridgwater Carnival really is something special and this is evidence of what we’ve said all along, ‘other places would pay good money to have something like this in their town’. But we have it already and we ought to make more of it. We have a massively popular cultural event, totally and originally created here in our town which people travel for miles to see one night in November. We should extend that for a weekend or more. Now we have 6 hotels coming we can turn that into a ‘Festival of Carnival’ and keep those tourists and that money in our town for that much longer.
Bridgwater people are good at art, culture and community. That’s something we want to push more of. More events – like the Quayside Festival, the Bridgwater History Day, the Bridgwater Together event, the Docks Gala, the Fair and the Carnival. And we probably won’t need to get a Canadian in to tell us how to do it. Although, he has now also taken on Cheddar Gorge as his next project…..