More needs to be done to bridge the gap between educational achievement in areas of the West Sussex coast and the high end skills needs of its businesses, the leader of an influential business group says after reviewing his first year.

Geoff Edwards, chairman of the Coastal West Sussex Partnership, says the gulf is still too wide leaving local young people unable to seize the chance to work in blue chip companies such as Rolls-Royce and Ricardo or the growing number of new entrepreneurial businesses starting along the coast.

Mr Edwards, Vice-President Operations at the Worthing based deluxe sound system company Bowers & Wilkins was speaking on the anniversary of his chairmanship of the Partnership.

“I think this partnership has been tremendously successful, we’ve made a difference and we want to keep doing that, but there is more work to be done,” he said, “ We have developed a commonality of voice, where local authorities and businesses are working much closer together to kick start and lead activities that support the economy.”

“We’ve developed a coherent and collective view about how we improve the coastal economy for everybody’s benefit. That is important because this has never been about what is simply good for business it’s about having ideas and putting effort into bringing about social and economic benefits for the good of the entire area.”

But he warned that there was still much to do particularly in ensuring the need to tackle deprivation and educational standards seen along the coast.

“We actually have some of the most deprived areas with poor educational achievements in the country sitting near employers needing a highly skilled workforce and being forced to search further afield to fill the posts,” he said.

He added it was important government didn’t forget that and fall into the trap of thinking coastal West Sussex as part of the affluent south east with few needs.

The Coastal West Sussex Partnership is a body of both private companies and public sector authorities brought together to promote sustainable development of communities. Its role is to influence, co-ordinate, lobby and lead in ways that may sometimes be more difficult for business or Local Authorities alone to do.

It works across traditional boundaries to put people at the heart of regeneration on the West Sussex coast and has already had success in promoting the importance of enterprise and STEM subjects within schools; creating the right governance to manage cross boundary planning issues and influencing investment decisions that will support economic growth

It takes a regional, larger than local, approach to issues across Adur, Worthing, Arun and Chichester. All local authorities are represented on the board of the Partnership as are the Institute of Directors, University of Chichester, Southern Water, Shoreham Port and other private sector companies.

Mr Edwards said that in his first year as chairman it had become apparent that the Partnership had successfully broken down barriers between the private and public sectors.

“It’s interesting that there can be a view within the private sector that local authorities are not very supportive of business but it is also true that businesses don’t always appreciate the pressure councils are under, “ he said. For example, ‘the need for sites to allow businesses to grow being balanced against the needs for councils to meet the local housing target’.”

“The Partnership has helped to break down these misunderstandings and there is an improving and shared understanding that can help unlock economic growth.”

“There’s a lot of business people and public sector officials giving up a lot of their spare time to help the Partnership forge a strategy for growth for the entire coastal West Sussex region,” he said, “There are many great reasons to live and work here but we cannot be complacent.”

“We need to keep fighting for this area. There’s plenty of work to be done to secure more investment, in equipping our young people with the right skills for the rest of their lives and attracting more people to work, live and contribute to our wonderful coast.”