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News - 16 September 2009

Economic Partnership Business Lunch

The meeting to discuss the city’s prospects for the coming upturn in the economy was well attended by local businesses with contributions from the think tank Centre for Cities and the Chair of the Economic Partnership.

Centre for Cities director Dermot Finch and Chris Webber - author of the report on Brighton published in February (see earlier story) - gave an overview of how the city has fared in the recession compared to others in the UK.

Dermot Finch made it clear that this is the deepest recession since the second world war with GDP falling by nearly 6% from its peak hitting all sectors but with manufacturing hit the most (especially automobile manufacturing).

The recession is being felt hardest in the West Midlands and the North; smaller cities are being particularly affected. Southern towns are also making their way onto the "worst-hit" list but Brighton & Hove is not currently one of them.

On the ILO measure, unemployment has now reached 2.47 million (7.8%) and youth unemployment is now 928,000 (19.1%) - this represents 38% of all unemployed which is particularly worrying.

In many Core Cities he did not expect a rapid return to the pattern of growth we had previously and there was a strong likelihood that employment will not return to peak (2008) levels for close to a decade.

Dermot also warned that cuts in public spending were inevitable but Brighton is very well insulated against the most likely cut-backs and job losses. But private sector businesses servicing the public sector may well find their contracts curtailed.

Chris Webber went on to argue that one of the city’s great strengths was its highly qualified workforce, 40% of which is qualified to NVQ Level 4 (a first degree). But despite this the employment rate, at 75.9%, is well below the regional average and not far above the wider UK average (74.5%). He recommended the following strategy to maintain the momentum the city had achieved over the past decade: -

  • Consensus building on specific developments needed to support growth
  • Get politicians involved earlier and give them better training
  • Minimise transaction costs for developers
  • New partnership arrangements to finance deals

Simon Fanshawe – Chair of the Economic Partnership – highlighted the strength of the city coming out of this recession compared to the last one. Its record of job creation over the past decade has been enviable and local indicators suggest that it is weathering the current recession well, especially compared to other towns and cities in the south east e.g. Swindon and Milton Keynes.

But he also stressed the need to maintain momentum if we are to compete against other business locations in terms of inward investment and retain our existing large and medium size employers by addressing their needs.

These needs include a workforce that is not only well-qualified (which we alredy have) but also well-skilled and he highlighted the role of City College in that process.

He appealed to politicians of all parties to develop a consensus around physical developments in the city and to lead a debate on what “growth” means and how it will be delivered.

In response to a question from the floor Dermot Finch proposed that the administration prioritize a list of development projects/sites that it would be feasible to deliver during a single administration and then have an open debate with interested parties. He also pointed out that working collaboratively with our neighbours to increase the value of the inward investment offer (the bigger the offer the more powerful the brand) would deliver distinct advantages to the city.

A discussion around the planning process led to a plea from a local developer for certainty in the pre-planning process albeit the certainty that the technocratic process of planning could deliver would always be tempered by the real politic of the ultimate planning committee decision making.

Transport issues were also discussed and the need to link key employment and residential sites via sustainable means using technology like London's Oyster card to seamlessly integrate different transport modes for the end user.

Read related items on:
Diamonds for Growth & Investment
Brighton & Hove Economic Partnership
Centre for Cities
Fanshawe, Simon
Finch, Dermot
Webber, Chris

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