The South-East is an “economy of small towns,” says Jonathan Sharrock, chief executive of the Coast to Capital LEP. But if it wants to be more than a collection of commuter towns for London, it needs to ensure it has plenty of interest, well-paid jobs.
The South East is, in a sense, “an economy of small towns,” says Jonathan Sharrock, chief executive of the Coast to Capital LEP. “So an issue for the region as a whole then is that without plenty of interesting, well-paid jobs, it becomes more of a collection of commuter towns for London.”
And he asks the question: “Are there enough well-paid and innovative jobs here? A sustainable economy is where people live and work in the same area. If people have to commute to London to earn enough in order to live in the south-east because of house prices here, then our economy will struggle.
“And we can’t take it for granted that businesses which are here are going to stay for ever; we are going to have to continually find the right reasons for them to consider the south-east as the location they want to be in. It has to be a relevant place to be, offering the right environment, workforce, supply chain, transport infrastructure, and the fastest digital communication. Businesses have to be convinced that being in the region is going to provide them with a platform for growth.”
The cost of housing has been an increasing challenge, with the area covered by Coast to Capital (from London to Brighton and the Sussex coast) one of the most expensive regions in the country, with property costing anything from nine times to sixteen times the median income.
“Skills like digital, applied mathematics and computer engineering are in huge demand, but if people can’t afford to live here, they will have to work elsewhere.”
“Skills like digital, applied mathematics and computer engineering are in huge demand, but if people can’t afford to live here, they will have to work elsewhere,” says Sharrock. “But we’re not the only part of the country which has housing affordability challenges. More of an issue is the sort of housing, and the lifestyle that will attract people in their twenties to forties. The traditional type of house in the shires was built on the assumption that everyone drives and wants a garden, but more of a priority for young people is to be in a vibrant town centre.
“The necessity is to make sure that people see the region as an attractive place to live and to grow their careers.”
Sharrock sees huge opportunities in becoming one of the first fully 5G regions. “We have been very good at early adoption of both 5G and fibre, but what we need to do is to apply it to develop commercial applications, otherwise it’s just
infrastructure which gives us the ability to stream films faster. If we want to be more advanced technically as an economy we need to harness 5G to give us a competitive advantage, especially among the creative industries in particular.”