The Coastal West Sussex Partnership board met at the Aldingbourne Centre on 13th October to discuss the future economy of the region, following a recently commissioned report which can be downloaded here.

Chairman Henry Powell welcomed the board by saying: “economic growth forms the basis of all the projects we run at the partnership. We’re a partnership that combines public sector, education providers and private business leaders. Together we can find a common voice and create progress in unison.

“By working as a common voice with a consistency of message we’re getting some great results which the data backs up. It’s interesting to hear from Sue at the Aldingbourne Trust that at a crucial moment she came to Caroline at CWSP for help and support. We were also part of the Rampion story, Gatwick’s progress, moving Brighton’s success to Worthing and we’re working on a project to bring virtual production studios to the region.”

“Our property work continues and the urgency with which we need to pursue that continues – the report from Vail Williams showed we don’t have the space we need to grow. We’re working hard to make sure we get the land space for the studios. We’re here to work with businesses to make sure they get the space they need to grow. We cannot relax on this.

“Our conversation with business and Local Authority partners at the beginning of the year resulted in a successful bid to the Economic Recovery Fun for over £200k to encourage and support businesses to decarbonise. The project is being led and commissioned by WSCC and will roll out in 2023.

“Today’s data has some key takeaways. Resilience was a key factor in our economy as we hit Covid. We didn’t contract in the way that some other areas did. Creative sector and video production grew in Worthing, as did other niche business sectors which have real potential and high value jobs including advanced manufacturing, creative digital and IT, aerospace and transport, computing and advanced electronics and medical devices. We need to make sure we’re helping this growth.

“Finally… we should all know we should never turn up to a dinner party without a local sparkling wine! Our viticulture and tourism economy is vital to our success. Sam Smithson is working closely with businesses across the tourism industry and connecting them to Experience West Sussex and other national groups.”

“We’re going to have 32k new residents moving to the area over the next few years and 82% of them are going to be over 65. Many of them will still be interested in the world of work, so there’s a real potential for re-training – we need to make the most of this potential.”

Jenny Andersson then presented the current global context and the key points from the CWSP economic report:

  • Low skill / low value economy – for a long time this is how it could be described.
  • Strong economic development in Worthing
  • Pockets of resilience in visitor economy / tourism. Still largely a day visitor economy.
  • Role of the public sector – often underestimated by the business community. Strong potential to have an impact on the regional economy.
  • Infrastructure challenges – A27 but also challenges with space and the built environment infrastructure a constraint.
  • Intergenerational challenges – aging economy. Opportunities as well – 60+ still want to work – there’s an enormous amount of contribution and value that 60+ people can bring.

The meeting then split into four discussion tables. The key takeaways were:

Table one – niche development

  • Upskilling is important. We need to stop referring to ‘low skills’ and replace with ‘entry level’ to be open and fair to all regardless of life stage.
  • Healthcare improvements needed to support wellbeing, lessening pressure on primary care so people could stay in their own homes.
  • Housing challenges – affordable housing and a more flexible approach required, e.g. for agricultural and seasonal workers. Local authorities need to think more creatively, e.g. empty commercial space could be repurposed.
  • We need to embrace and harness new technologies to create a healthy, natural environment. Upgrade the grid so we can plug our new technology in and enhance it.
  • Seeds of the future – we need to build on existing success stories, e.g. Shoreham Hydrogen and Sussex Kelp Forests.

Table two – leadership and narrative

  • We want to aim for a combination of low carbon, net positive and wellbeing economy.
  • We need to create a manifesto to communicate our mission and vision to everyone along the coast from public and private sector to education, so that our vision of a low carbon, net positive economy is on the agenda at every stage of our economic growth, and so that everyone understands their role and how they can support the mission and help us communicate it.
  • We have an enormous amount of renewable energy available to make it happen. We need to take advantage of our sun and wind, add the kelp and what we can do with our national park to support our net positive growth.
  • Fair trade locally as well as internationally – not exploit our resources or our people but make the most of our natural assets in a sustainable way, investing in our future.
  • Real issue with housing – building more houses isn’t necessarily the solution – our process at the moment is all about building new houses. It’s not a holistic approach.
  • We need to get better at measurement for carbon emissions.
  • Businesses could contribute to a regenerative foundation for young people to study, or older generations to upskill to work in the green economy.

Table three – regional risk and opportunity

  • We need to work towards a sustainable economy, we live in a beautiful area, we need to continue it. We have a lifestyle that people want to embrace and be part of.
  • We also need a balance as we have growth constraints including lack of commercial space.
  • Training for all – we need to make sure older people have access to training to reskill.
  • We need to make more of our agri/viti/horticulture, embrace green technology, bring in research and innovation.
  • Need to promote opportunities that align with our vision.

Table four – creative integration

  • Focused on an economy which people could fulfil their potential as well as being a technology driven and wellbeing economy.
  • Education – there’s an opportunity to have better and stronger connections between education and business.
  • We want to ensure the economy values people at all stages of life. A wellbeing economy would also be a developmental economy – allowing people to grow and fulfil their potential.
  • Availability of land for commercial, housing, nature, leisure, food – we need a new approach across the sector to calculating, in advance, long term, how we’re going to make the best use of land.
  • We need to make the most of the large businesses that are already here and have better conversations with them to help fulfil their ambition and support the smaller businesses.
  • Partner in a better and different way with SDNP – how can we access more land if we grew businesses that are ecologically and socially just?

Henry concluded: “Our challenge now is taking this conversation forward. The next time we get together may be stage two with a lot of preparation in the meantime. If we did have a cohesive economic manifesto, it would help our businesses to sell outside of the area. There would also be less chance of big businesses leaving the area. We will go away and come back with suggestions to take it forward. If you’d like to get involved, please contact Caroline and let her know.”

Thank you to the Aldingbourne Trust for hosting. It supports adults with learning disabilities and / or autism to lead enriched and fulfilling lives through education, training, specialist care and a keen focus on building strong partnerships with local businesses and employers.