Last month, Chamber hosted an event in Ipswich where we brought several key figures from Suffolk to discuss levelling up and legacy in the area. The conversation focussed on Sizewell C, attracting young professionals to the region and the future of Suffolk.
The event was chaired by Ian Hudspeth, the former Leader of Oxfordshire County Council and he was joined by Member of Parliament for Waveney, Peter Aldous, Labour Candidate for Ipswich, Jack Abbot, Youth Engagement Manager at Inspire Suffolk, Jackie Partridge and former Head of Regional External Affairs at Sizewell C, Tom McGarry. Audience members, all of whom were involved in the community in Suffolk, were given the opportunity to grill panellists about levelling up in the area.
This resulted in an open and honest conversation which can be viewed in full here. Below, we’ve picked out some of the key talking points from the event.
One of the first questions posed to the panel came from a mother of two in the area whose children have left Suffolk for university. She wanted to know what could be done to ensure that Suffolk was an attractive place for young professionals.
The region has gone big on renewable energy in recent times, with nuclear powerplant Sizewell C being built to provide millions of homes in the area with renewable energy. Another benefit of this powerplant is that it will create thousands of jobs in Suffolk in what is a new and exciting industry.
For Jack Abbott, Labour Parliamentary Candidate for Ipswich, the region needs more than Sizewell C to attract the best young talent. He said:
“Projects such as Sizewell C will offer better skills, wages and training for young people which is of huge value. We have lower average wages in Ipswich than in large parts of the country which is a real concern in a cost of living crisis.
However, we also have a housing crisis which is turning young people away. Rent prices here are astronomical and the dream of home ownership is getting further and further away for many people. Our wider infrastructure, including roads, trains, internet, and broadband also needs looking at.
Unless we start addressing these issues in rural areas like Suffolk then young people are less likely to set up careers here.”
Jackie Partridge, Youth Engagement Manager at Inspire Suffolk, agreed but also believes that there are existing opportunities in the area that just aren’t advertised well enough. She said:
“We need to look at opportunities here in Suffolk and advertise them to young people. At Inspire Suffolk, we work with graduating students and figure out what we can offer them in the local area. I went to university in Hertfordshire and only came back because I had to, not because I wanted to. We need to make sure young people are aware of what we can offer them here.”
Sizewell C was approved back in the summer of 2022, and construction on the powerplant is set to take around 12 years to complete. A mistake that has often been made in the past with similar projects is that after completion, no legacy has been left behind.
Keen to avoid the mistakes of the past, one member of the audience asked the panellists what they believed the lasting legacy of Sizewell C will be, particularly with so much controversy surrounding the project.
Peter Aldous, MP for Waveney, said:
“I think the main legacy will be skills. As far as skills are concerned there will be significant jobs during that 10-12 year period but it mustn’t be a wild west, gold rush town where when construction is finished nothing is left.
You need to leave something positive and I would like to think we could leave people with skills in particular areas and expertise whether that is in fabrication or telecommunications for example. Another potential legacy could be around local infrastructure and there has been talk of trialling hydrogen buses in the area.”
Tom McGarry, Head of Regional External Affairs at Sizewell C, believes that the legacy of the project will be shaped by community engagement. He said:
“The one constant I’ve noted so far from the consultation period and passage of time that has shaped Sizewell C is local community engagement and they will help to shape what the legacy will look like.
The county council and district council are often critical of each other but they both consistently come back to the point about legacy. Therefore the direction in which investment has been pushed and shaped is all around ensuring that the skills people learn through Sizewell C are transferable to ensure there is a legacy.”
A big problem affecting a whole host of places in the United Kingdom is a lack of local funding. While the Conservative government promised to level up the United Kingdom in its 2019 manifesto, the policy has since come under fire for underdelivering.
Peter Aldous, a conservative MP, was open about his feelings toward the policy:
“If you look at the funding provided through the levelling-up fund, we haven’t done very well and we need to be doing better on that. Nowhere in Suffolk is regarded as a priority place because areas of deprivation here are masked by pockets of wealth.
In my constituency, there has been enormous public investment in various initiatives to improve the town centre. Delivering those projects is the priority first and foremost.”
Jack Abbott, a labour candidate in the region, was quite forthright when giving his opinion on how to boost investment in the local area. He said:
“I’m biased but I’d say change government. The ludicrous nature of the levelling up fund is a nonsense. Even if we did get that in Suffolk it would barely paper over the cracks from the funding cuts we’ve experienced. This isn’t a Suffolk-only issue but something that needs to be sorted out.”
In an honest and forthright conversation, all four panellists should be commended for how they answered all of the difficult questions posed to them.
It’s clear that the talk of the region is Sizewell C and understandably so. The nuclear powerplant is set to create up to 25,000 jobs and apprenticeships in the area and has led many people to label Suffolk as the “all energy coast”.
Aside from Sizewell C, though, more investment is needed in more areas in Suffolk to prevent them from becoming a one-sector pony.