The latest articles on the Convergence programme showing the integration of activity, lessons learnt and good practice available here...
An over-reliance on tourism leads to diversification bid for island ‘idyll’
The beauty and tranquillity of the Isles of Scilly perhaps misleads people into thinking that living and working on the islands is not without its challenges and difficulties. Indeed, it may come as a surprise to some that the Isles of Scilly, along with Cornwall, forms part of the Convergence Programme, a collection of European Union funding streams aimed at improving the economy of underperforming areas.
As part of the Convergence Programme and in partnership with its partners and community, the Council of the Isles of Scilly are developing a range of projects across the islands that collectively will help transform the islands economy and create employment opportunities outside of tourism. While tourism is and always will be at the heart of the economy, its dominance and dependence brings with it a certain fragility and risk.
Although many people have more than one job, pay on the islands is generally low with average weekly earnings less than in Cornwall and the forth lowest in the entire UK - again reflecting the dependency on tourism. Unemployment is extremely low but under employment is high, reflecting more than a fifth of the population having a higher level qualification. Unfortunately these qualifications do not always match the skills required on the islands.
Low earnings are compounded by the high the cost of living and of operating a business on a remote and peripheral archipelago, largely due to the cost of transport to and from the mainland. The lack of decent affordable homes is also an issue. Research undertaken by the National Housing Federation indicates that the average price of a home on the Isles of Scilly is £405,429; a figure over 29 times higher than the average local income.
Other barriers to economic growth include a limited access to the wider market place as a result of the islands peripheral and remote location and insufficient or poor workspace for local businesses and entrepreneurs , most of which are self-employed.
So how can the Convergence Programme transform the island economy? The recognition of the Isles of Scilly in the Convergence Programme document as an area “requiring limited, specific interventions to unlock significant economic opportunities” has enabled the islands to develop projects that collectively will offer new and exciting employment opportunities. The islands have been provided with a dedicated team hosted by the Council of the Isles of Scilly to work with its partners, as well as the local community and businesses, to develop projects that will transform the economy of the islands.
First and foremost among these projects has been the support given to the development of the Isles of Scilly Sea Link project. Whilst the scheme was recently rejected by the Department for Transport, the team were nevertheless successful at securing £11.75 million from the Convergence European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) programme to contribute towards a project that would have significantly improved the quality of life for the islands community as well as the economic prospects for both the Isles of Scilly and West Cornwall. This project would have secured the islands life-line sea connection to the mainland with a sustainable all year round service for the foreseeable future.
The Porthcressa Regeneration Project focuses on redeveloping a prominent beach front location on St Mary’s. The scheme includes the provision of a new larger modern library and register office that will offer residents and visitors a fantastic wedding venue with stunning views across the sea, new modern office space aimed at high value and knowledge based businesses with 2 or 3 affordable homes above, a new shelter and extensive landscaping that will improve the quality of the public realm.
Other projects include new workspace on the island of St Agnes, one of the 4 inhabited off islands. Workspace on the off-islands is difficult, if not impossible, to come by, meaning that residents often have to travel to St Mary’s to seek employment, very often at considerable cost. This project, which has been initiated by the local community, will enable residents to work from the island reducing the need to commute to St Mary’s for work. The project on St Agnes includes the refurbishment of the islands hall as a community centre using a range of funding sources.
There is a significant opportunity to develop a number of workspace units at the Porthmellon industrial estate on St Mary’s. A project is being developed to investigate the opportunities for an innovation and enterprise centre, which would provide around 14 new state of the art workspaces, a managed reception service, video and tele conferencing facilities and a meeting room. This project has potential to link with the other Innovation Centre’s throughout Cornwall. Through the use video conferencing technology, it will be possible to access business support and training delivered on the mainland.
In partnership with the Duchy of Cornwall and local boatmen, a project is being developed that will improve the marine infrastructure at Porthloo on St Mary’s, including the provision of a new slipway and hoist. The islands have the most significant sized commercial fleet west of Falmouth, although a number of vessels are too large to be serviced or laid up for the winter and therefore have to travel to Falmouth. This situation leads to additional costs for the boatmen and loss of income to islands marine based businesses.
Beyond the projects being developed by our team, the islands are receiving additional benefits from the wider Convergence Programme. These benefits include access to business support advisors and the forthcoming voucher programme. Specialist advisors have held two events on the islands with further visits made to specific businesses.
Of all the projects emerging through the Convergence programme, the availability of Next Generation Broadband Access will inevitably have the most profound and lasting impact. This improved technology will help break down the barriers created by the remote and peripheral location of the islands and offer a real chance for local businesses to compete with their mainland counterparts on a level playing field and enable the Scillonian economy to diversify and modernise.
Chief Planning & Development Officer