The European Satellite Communications (SatCom) industry is not just important to the economy of the South West in terms of jobs and growth but in the way that it facilitates everyday life and in the future improves it. Companies such as Airbus, Inmarsat and Avanti bring high tech and high skilled jobs to the South West and the satellite industry is a vital component of this. The supply chain, which supports these major companies, spreads across the region extending the economic benefits way beyond the immediate vicinity of the factories.
We all know that the SatCom industry is essential to TV, radio and mobile phones but it will soon be able to provide broadband access. Rural areas across the South West suffer from slow internet access and with Government backed broadband roll out stalling, satellite broadband offers an alternative answer.
Europe is a world leader in the industry but there is much to be done so that it maintains this position. There has been a lack of recognition in the Commission about the need for high tech, high value, digital skills as a core part of the success of high tech industries. This is a particular problem when it comes to getting women involvement in the industry.
At the moment women account for only 24% of science and engineering professionals and despite the fact that women make up more than 50% of EU students and earn 45% of EU doctoral degrees women on average only hold 19% of senior academic positions.
This is such a waste of talent. We have created bottlenecks in our economy with this unused talent and capability. The fault doesn’t solely lie with politicians, it is the responsibility of companies as well as education ministers to champion women's education, offer apprenticeships, and hold up successful women within the industry as examples to the next generation. You can't be what you can't see.
Another problem looms large for the space and satellite industry in the South West and that is Brexit. The UK leaving the EU would have an enormous detrimental impact on the industry and undo all the progress we have made.
EU funding provides a incredibly stable investment and policy framework for UK businesses. By leaving the EU we risk serious damage to our space industry. This investment environment means we have a lot to offer & receive from Europe in funding and scientific collaboration. We need to make sure we are still in Europe to benefit from and offer this.
The EU is the largest single funder of European Space Agency and has growing say in project procurement, design and technology as well as having a huge space programme separate from the ESA. Many UK firms are large stakeholders in this and won big contracts for the Galileo and Copernicus launch programmes, to name but a few.
The danger is that if we were to leave the EU not only would we lose the ability and benefits of cross Europe research collaboration we risk being frozen out of the investment and financial benefits. There is now large support behind establishing a “buy EU” clause in next stages of all EU space programmes and it is wrong to say that EU wouldn’t promote interests of member states over UK if it were to leave.
The EU is a world leader in the field of SatComs. We have achieved this through the unique European quality of collaboration. It is an achievement to be proud of but one which we must not take for granted either at a European level or at a UK level. We must continue to push Europe to free up these road blocks that impede women getting on within the industry and we can’t sleep walk into leaving the EU and then waking to find that industries and supply chains crumble due to lack of market access, research funding and support.