The UKHO is a jewel in the crown of Taunton Deane businesses, but it’s reputation extends way beyond. It leads the field globally in gathering marine data to provide 90% of the world’s shipping charts. It is a profit-making arm of the Ministry of Defence and I was delighted that the Secretary of State for Defence, Gavin Williamson, accepted my invitation to visit the new HQ last Friday to meet the outstanding team working there and to hear about future ambitions. A cornerstone of this is a plan to secure a Geospatial Hub and innovation centre in Taunton (potentially at Firepool), building on the UKHO expertise to grow the blue economy sector, which a fast-developing specialism of the wider SW economy. This will bring opportunities for even more young people to skill up in this area (the UKHO already operates an enviable apprenticeship programme) and I am working at Government level to help bring this to fruition.
Next stop was Norton Manor Camp, home of our revered 40 Commando Royal Marines. I wanted the Defence Secretary to see the site for himself and to demonstrate, together with Ltn Col Paul Maynard and his remarkable team, that this 130-acre site, where over £50m has been invested in recent time, is ideally equipped to cater for 40 Commando’s needs well into the future. After a tour of the up to date vehicle workshop, the specialised gym and rehab centre, the HQ, extensive grounds with astro turf and ranges, and after seeing plans of the new welfare and family centre soon to open, understanding the complex investment in the underground services, the suitability of the sites’ location, as well as a strong case being made in terms of the contribution the marines make to the local economy, the Secretary of State was left with a clear message about why I believe 40 Commando should remain at Norton Manor. He commented ‘I don’t come here with prejudices against Norton Manor, I come here with an open view.’ I shall continue pressing to influence that view. If value for money for the tax payer is a criterion, leaving 40 Commando where they are must make sense.