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Shadow business secretary 'Exeter could become the UK’s answer to Silicon Valley'

By Exeter Express and Echo  |  Posted: November 22, 2013

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Labour’s shadow business secretary has said Exeter could become the UK’s answer to Silicon Valley.

Chuka Umunna, a rising star of the opposition front bench, said the growing city, with its university and new science park, could one day rival California’s world-famous base for high-tech industry and become a template for growth nationally.

The MP said the region’s “quality of life, countryside and proximity to scientific innovation” could help “rebalance” Britain’s “London-”centric economy.

Mr Umunna, who was speaking during a meeting with businesses at the University of Exeter’s Innovation Centre, wants to repeat the “success story” nationally.

He said: “We have got to look at what we have here and encourage it to spread nationally.

“One of the things I want to tease out of discussions with business people here is has this just happened organically or has there been some strategic forethought.

“This can be a pilot of where we have got it right and we can learn the lessons and do the same in other places.”

The MP also promised help for the region’s struggling businesses if Labour returns to power in 2015 by cutting and freezing business rates for two years, saving the average business £390.

He said slow growth under the coalition could be partly blamed on scrapping of bodies such as the South West Regional Development Agency.

However, he ruled out scrapping the Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEP) introduced in its place and was “inclined to keep them” but giving them “appropriate budget and powers”.

Asked about the slow roll-out of broadband in parts of the region he said he would try to force Ofgem to speed up delays by requiring that suppliers connect businesses within a week.

One of the businesses talking to Mr Umunna was the Blur Group, a global technology business which is to become the first commercial business to move to the city’s Science Park next month, creating up to 130 jobs.

Jon Hogg, global head of platform for the company, which operates like an “Ebay for services”, said the region was “a great place to build our HQ”.

“We needed a place to grow globally and we felt the South West could become our Silicon Valley,” he said.

“That part of California was a nowhere place but was a nice area to live and had two great universities – those conditions exist here and it could be a great place to cluster.

“I have just brought in a head of design from Rome and he is very excited – you just need the right kind of place where people want to live.”

Exeter MP Ben Bradshaw, a former Labour Culture Secretary, invited his Parliamentary colleague to the city to showcase its achievements in becoming a “powerhouse” of the local economy.

“I hope he goes away with lots of useful ideas which can then push in government,” he added.

“Silicon Valley was all about bringing young people to a place looking for quality of life – we have a fantastic environment and a forward-looking and innovative university.”

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