JIM PARKER: All about having confidence
MITCH Tonks got me thinking. The following day so, too, did Steve Parrock. Award-winning Mitch was truly inspirational as he helped launch the Mitch Tonks Seafood Academy at the ever-inspiring South Devon College.
He has a passion for seafood, for food in general, for Torbay and for South Devon and it rubs off.
The academy is bound to be a resounding success as Mitch plans to put South Devon on the worldwide seafood map.
He even hinted at investing and opening a new restaurant in Torquay. Yes, investing in down-at-heel Torquay — has he lost his mussel marbles? The answer is no. Mitch can see huge potential in the town and the Bay.
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So are we right to be all doomy and gloomy all the time?
Mr Parrock, chief executive of Torbay Development Agency, was definitely in an up-beat mood when he gave a mini state of the nation report to Torbay Business Forum.
It was about what had been achieved in the Bay recently and what may be happening in the future. It was about success stories and not failure.
Other major road improvements have taken place and more are planned. New business parks were mentioned. Innovation centres were full. Hotel chains have invested in the town. The Oldway Mansion scheme has been sealed at last. And work is progressing on the Palm Court — yes, the Palm Court.
A plan is still on the table for a seafront hotel project in Torquay, there is talk of a supermarket development at the Torquay Town Hall car park and Tesco is close to submitting a revised planning application for a new supermarket at Brixham — yes, Tesco is still interested in Brixham after all these years.
Torbay MP Adrian Sanders is also positive about the future. His speech to a recent meeting of the Torquay Chamber of Commerce spelled out that Torbay is in a good place, despite all the problems and issues facing the resort just like any other area of the country.
Mr Sanders told me Torbay had suffered in three main areas for generations — low work skills, poor transport links with the rest of the country and a lack of affordable housing.
But he said: "We are getting the skills right. South Devon College has transformed the further education for skills and vocational training. It has been a big contributor. We have the transport links (with the coming of the South Devon Link Road). And we have broadband coming to Torquay."
He said affordable housing was still an issue and the Bay had to make sure that as people became more highly skilled, they were not forced to move away. Mr Sanders said the four 'pillars' of the South West — agriculture, defence, tourism and fishing — have been in decline.
But he said times were changing — many farms are now small businesses and the tourism industry was a different market place.
Branded hotels have homed in on the Bay, although there was a word of caution from the MP when he said: "Tourism is changing with branded national chains taking the profits out of the area and replacing family-owned businesses that put the profits back into the area. You have to plan around them so the local people who are going to be around in the future can become the brands of tomorrow."
He said the four pillars of the economy were still there but added: "There are other things that we need to sustain the future."
He accepted there were still some issues with the banks helping small businesses and talked of the need for a 'micro bank' banking system where businesses could borrow small amounts of money that would make a big difference to them.
He said there were now real opportunities for businesses to grow and not quit the Bay when they reach a certain size. He acknowledged some town centre traders are still struggling. He said: "There are concerns about car parking, but you have to understand local government does not have much control other than car park charges. They are always going to go for car parking charges."
He said the area was leading the way in new apprenticeships. Mr Sanders said: "We are seeing the highest increase in apprenticeships in Devon. We are seeing a faster decrease in unemployment although we are still an unemployment blackspot.
"The real good sign is the number of people out of work who are looking for a job. There are now three people looking for one job. It was double figures a few years ago."
Mr Sanders said it was all about having confidence in the future and taking full advantage of the bypass boost. He said: "I don't think we have ever been in this position before where we have had a vote of confidence from the government to say 'we are going to help you'. We have to try to make sure that we do not lose that opportunity."
He was confident: "Instead of Torbay being the first economy to go into recession, we could be one of the first to be pulling out of the recession."
Perhaps, it is time to get our chins off the floor and shout about what is good in the Bay.
Talking of the bypass, Mr Sanders came up with a fascinating suggestion. Brixham is still very keen to see its long-awaited Northern Arm built.
Mr Sanders says: "I am not aware that there has been a discussion between Torbay and the contractor of the bypass to use spoil from the road works and use that towards the Northern Arm." Oh and by the way, Mr Sanders has little time for any third harbour aspirations across the Bay in Torquay. He says: "Let's just drop this third harbour plan. It is not going to happen. It has taken us 30 to 40 years to get £76million for the bypass which is needed. The Government is not going to back a third harbour."