In a lively evening of presentations, questions and answers, the third annual State of the City event sponsored by Brighton & Hove Business Forum and Brighton University was held in the Sallis Benney theatre on Tuesday June 22.
A panel made up of city leaders faced an audience representing more than 130 Brighton & Hove businesses, together with councillors, council officers and academics, for a Question Time style session; topics ranged from business, unemployment and housing to the likelihood of a monorail running through the city.
Anthony Zacharzewski of the Democratic Society chaired the event and to help the audience quiz a panel representing bodies as diverse as the City Council, Sussex Police, the NHS, the voluntary sector, the Brighton & Hove Economic Partnership and Business Link.
Tony Mernagh, Executive Director of Brighton & Hove Economic Partnership, gave an insightful socio-economic overview of the city, supported by a vast array of facts and figures covering almost every aspect of city life over the last year and the opportunities and threats it faces in the near future.
This was followed by a shorter presentation from Rob Fraser, the council’s head of Planning Strategy, explained how the city’s core development strategy was waiting for new policy developments as the new Westminster government is rapidly changing many of the rules on which the strategy is based.
A score of questions was presented to the panel and not all of the questions, by any means, were on business topics.
Laurence Taylor of Sussex Police was quizzed about its commitment to reducing carbon emissions (it is implementing a policy) and to supporting the 10:10 campaign (in which Brighton & Hove is a world leader), while Scott Marshall - Director of Culture & Enterprise at the City Council - was put on the spot about the apparent differences in public expenditure on the Brighton seafront and the Hove seafront (they are put to different public uses but neither is starved of investment was the answer).
Employment issues arose several times, from several points of view, such as helping long term unemployed and (in a separate question) adults with mental disabilities into work, and from employers who felt the need for graduates to have more practical business skills in order to hit the ground running as employees and panellist Tony Mernagh challenged the audience’s business leaders about doing more to help school leavers and graduates to be ready for work. An audience member was also vocal about the inability for very small businesses to take on employees with particular needs, such as those with mental disabilities, unless there was proper external support for the extra resources needed
The question ‘How many more web designers, jewellery designers and graphic designers does Brighton need?’ raised a chuckle but the answer from the panel was serious: if they can keep on finding clients, said Julia Chanteray, "bring them on". And as an extension to that, the so-called digital industry may be a relatively modest part of Brighton’s employment landscape, when compared to hospitality and the public sector, but it is thriving and growing, and in the games industry Brighton has the potential to be one of the world’s top locations and has the potential to take a sizeable slice of a £5bn+ global market. The recent decision of the new coalition government to remove recently granted tax breaks for the industry will not help.
On the whole, questions might have sometime been searching but they were benign, with few major points of controversy. The net effect appeared to be that Brighton & Hove’s business community is reasonably comfortable with the way the city and its major institutions are being run.
Click here to download Summary of Challenges to the local economy 2010
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Community Voluntary Sector Forum
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