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Government called on to support South West’s future skills

The Heart of the South West LEP (Local Enterprise Partnership) is calling on Government to accelerate upskilling the region’s workforce with the skills of the future.

Companies in the Heart of the South West area (Devon, Somerset, Plymouth and Torbay) are struggling to recruit in growing areas including data science, cyber, robotics, machine learning and customer service. This ‘skills gap’ is leaving some of the region’s most innovative companies struggling to fill roles, and slowing down growth.

Karl Tucker, Chair of the Heart of the South West LEP, said: “Demand for key emerging sectors such as tech and digital is outweighing the number of skilled workers, together with a significant shortfall in available skilled labour in other sectors including agriculture, construction, healthcare, education and engineering. It is therefore absolutely crucial that we work with Government to increase the upskilling of our workforce, support more people into the labour market, and ensure people’s skills are resilient to the future of industry.”

The LEP is calling on Government to support the area in upskilling the workforce for the jobs of the future, through increased flexibility on the apprenticeship levy, and accelerating the availability of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF) for skills support.

The current apprenticeship levy system has been criticised by leading trade bodies, including The British Retail Consortium, UKHospitality, techUK and the Recruitment & Employment Confederation, due to its restrictive nature, which prevents businesses from funding courses which are shorter than a year. The Heart of the South West LEP is amongst many other organisations calling for it to be reformed, to allow more tailored courses to be funded, and increase uptake.

Mark Bolton, Principal and CEO of Yeovil College, said: “Recent Government funding to pilot skills initiatives in priority sectors, including high value technology led industries, and others crucial to the South West such as agriculture, construction and health have been very well represented in our region. As a consequence of our success, Further and Higher Education providers have been part of multiple new curriculum developments, bringing technology and innovation skills opportunities to the workforce in businesses throughout Somerset and Devon over the past two to three years. 

“This additional funding needs to continue in the mainstream over a longer time, so that we can plan with businesses and make the most of the head start we now have, supporting the South West business community with a workforce which can drive further prosperity and investment.”

The LEP is also calling on Government to accelerate the availability of UKSPF funding for workforce and skills support, particularly in technical skills, into 2023/24. Currently, the Levelling Up funding for People and Skills will not be available until April 2024. Most current funded programmes will end in June 2023, leaving a funding gap of nine months before the new funding is released.

Toby Parkins, Chair of Tech South West, the region’s tech cluster, said: “Modern growth businesses rely on technology to create greater growth, and they all have a desperate need to find more skilled people. It’s essential that Government prioritise an innovative skills training agenda. By doing this they will increase the earning capability of individuals, and then increase the productivity of businesses across all sectors. This approach will provide the fastest way to increasing taxation income, and create the greatest return on investment to the Treasury.” 


Comprised of business leaders from across our key sectors, the LEP Board oversees the programme of infrastructure, business support and skills projects being delivered by 2025.

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      David Ralph

      Chief Executive

      David Ralph started as Chief Executive of Heart of South West LEP at the beginning of June 2018. Previously, he had spent 5 years as CEO of the Derby, Derbyshire, Nottingham, Nottinghamshire (D2N2) LEP from 2013 where he oversaw the development of the D2N2 Strategic Economic Plan and sector strategies, 3 Growth Deals with HM Government to deliver a £1billion capital investment programme, securing and implementing £200m ESIF programme, the Derby and Nottingham Enterprise Zone, the D2N2 Skills Deal and Time for Innovation programme, community fund and led the executive team to develop the HS2 East Midlands hub. He was also closely involved in the proposed North Midlands Devolution Deal and one of the key architects in establishing the Midlands Engine, chairing the officer steering group. Whilst in this role David was a NED of the Nottingham Enterprise Zone, and Marketing NG, the Outer Estates Foundation and a Governor of Nottingham College and on the advisory Board of Nottingham Business School.

      Before the East Midlands, David was CEO of the Have Gateway Partnership working closely with local stakeholders including the ports of Felixstowe, Harwich and Ipswich and BT Adadastral Park across Suffolk and Essex and prior to that was Chief Exec of the Barton Hill New Deal for Communities programme in Bristol and the Nelm Development Trust in Norwich.

      David is a keen sailor, walker and trail runner.