Is there a strategy for the central south? – The Economic Challenge

Seminar One: The Economic Challenge

The first of three seminars held as part of the Regional Strategy Project focuses on the economic challenge of the central south.

The analysis in the paper below draws on documents published by the LEPs and top-tier local authorities. It looks at the economic opportunities and challenges facing the central south, and for both explicit evidence of shared and joint working and of implied shared priorities and perspectives. More detailed analyses of housing, planning, infrastructure, assets and capacities will be presented in the next two seminars.

We would like to thank Barker Mill Estates, Build Environment Communications Group (BECG), Blake Morgan, Hampshire County Council and Carey’s Manor for their support.

The project’s conclusions will be presented to a conference at Carey’s Manor, Brockenhurst, on September 20th. For invitation requests please email us here.

The following documents are working documents to stimulate discussion. We welcome clarifications, corrections, and comments. Please email us here if you have any.


Help us to move on!

Our report for the Blagrave Trust outlining practical policy recommendations to address some of the issues facing young people in Hampshire, Portsmouth and Southampton can be read below.

Hope4Housing Film: This is a short film made by young people in Hampshire which sets out some of the issues facing them in housing, and how they would like to see local politicians and policy-makers start to address them.

Home, here or London?

Retaining graduates from the central South’s universities.

Both authors frequently hear the refrain ‘we must retain more of our graduates’ at meetings and seminars on the local economy.This report, commissioned by Willmott Dixon, explores the retention of graduates from the central South’s universities in our economy and examines the challenges the region faces in recruiting and retaining these graduates.

Graduates are a valuable resource to the economy.They bring new skills, fresh perspectives and a willingness to question established approaches.1 The government sees the UK’s universities as central to the delivery of its industrial strategy, in part because they will provide the skilled professionals needed for a changing economy.

Living Well: Health and wellbeing for a better quality of life

In March 2018 the University of Winchester and Southern Policy Centre hosted a seminar on health and social care, exploring the challenges facing the Central South as we strive to meet the pressures demographic changes put on our health and social services.

The growing number of older people is in no small measure due to the medical and social progress we have made in recent years. Yet, whilst many can look forward to longer lives, they may also face more complex medical conditions and physical challenges as they age. One of our speakers last March, Lord Geoffrey Filkin from the Centre for Ageing Better, put is very simply: longer lives are a great opportunity, but what will make those extra years good? That is the question our seminar addresses

LEPs and the central South: a summary of our breakfast seminar in conjunction with PwC

Since their establishment in 2010, Local Enterprise Partnerships have been integral to economic growth across England, providing a channel for government investment in infrastructure, skills and innovation. A joint Southern Policy Centre/PwC seminar held at the beginning of December exploredhow our local LEPs see their future role and discussed how they can help fulfil the needs of the Central South of England.

Julian Gray of PwC opened the discussion by suggesting that the urban South Coast was a great place to live, but that it underperformed economically. The session’s Chair, John Denham, reminded us that LEPs are big spenders, but that their activities were ‘under the radar’ for many, and they needed to be accountable to business and local communities.

John reflected on the suggestion of Lord Jim O’Neill, former Treasury minister, at a recent Southern Policy Centre seminar that the central South lacked ‘a distinctive, “stand-out” proposal which built on unique local strengths and offered …. a clear sense of local identity and place’.

Gary Jeffries, Chair of Solent LEP, saw a compelling vision of the central South coast as a ‘world class coastal economy’, building on our existing strengths. He suggested that a strong component of that vision should be the marine and maritime economies, but without neglecting other strengths in medicine, space technology and the wider knowledge economy.

Gary noted the proposed changes to LEP boundaries (now approved by ministers) which would see the New Forest area become part of Solent LEP. The parts of Test Valley, Winchester and East Hampshire districts which were currently part of Solent LEP would join the rest of their district in EM3. This would strengthen Solent’s coastal focus.

The LEP want to shape a distinctive local industrial strategy which builds on what we do well, and provides an investment plan which will support the growth of these sectors and of our economy, tackling infrastructure under investment and low productivity.

Alastair Welch, director of ABP’s Southampton port, highlighted the significance of the port in the UK’s global trade. Southampton was not ‘the end of the line’ but a ‘gateway to the world’. We should lobby hard for the investment to help us maintain this pre-eminence, which has many wider benefits for the central South’s economy.

We should be ‘thinking big’ and ensuring we invest in what is already excellent in our local economy to maintain our world-leading status. That will ensure we send a message about the success of our local economy, rather than a gloomy assessment of weaknesses. They could only be addressed, Alastair suggested, by building on our local strengths.

Presentations concluded with an assessment from Zoe Green from PwC of what would make a good local industrial strategy. Zoe’s experience with the national pilot on these strategies made clear that government ministers wanted to see investment in areas and sectors which can unlock local, regional and national growth. The best strategies would be ambitious and offer a distinctive vision for a place – highlighting its brand, assets, talent and even ‘liveability’.

A good strategy would also be based on robust partnerships between the public and private sector, which allowed the area to explore new ways of working. In Zoe’s view, collaboration across boundaries was vital to realising the vision for what the central South can be. That transcends organisational boundaries and presents a picture of how partners can deliver change at a scale which will have real economic impacts. In some areas, neighbouring LEPs in the pilot programme had taken a more strategic overview of their local industrial strategies, making a persuasive case for investment by highlighting shared aspirations and ambitions.

The discussion that followed these presentations echoed the need for an ambitious vision that businesses could get behind. One speaker endorsed the need for our area speaking with a coherent collective voice, and the need to avoid being parochial. Others spoke about our shared identity and the many things that bind us together.

Many of the businesses present were keen to get behind an ambitious vision for our future, and there was some discussion about the process for developing local industrial strategies, including the timetable – with Zoe pointing out that Government’s aim was to have all in place by early 2020.

The LEPs are already building the evidence base for their strategies, and will want to involve local businesses and communities in shaping their vision. Attendees at our seminar reflected the enthusiasm for that collaborative approach, and the desire for an ambitious, positive statement about what the central South can achieve.

SPC and PwC hope to arrange further events as our local industrial strategies progress. We look forward to working with our LEPs and businesses to help shape our shared future.

SPC announces new devolution project – ‘A strategy for the central South?’

Is there a strategy for the central South? A new SPC project

There is a widely-shared fear that central southern England is not attracting the additional resources and powers that are being enjoyed in other regions.

The former Treasury Minister, Lord Jim O’Neill, has criticised previous devolution proposals from central southern England, saying that they failed to identify clear priorities and distinctive outcomes for the area.[1]It is clear that progress in the future will depend on developing a clear regional strategy with broad political, business and public sector buy-in. It is also clear that the government has backed some sub-regional strategies (for example the Oxford-Cambridge corridor) with no formal devolution deals in place.

Many strategy documents and plans have been published for central southern England by LEPs, local authorities, statutory undertakings and business organisations. However, it is difficult to find an overview of these proposals, let alone an assessment of whether they create a coherent and complementary set of policies.

The new SPC project aims to address that shortfall. Rather than re-open the sensitive and difficult topic of devolution structures, we want to address the underlying question: is there a coherent strategy for central southern England? And, if not, where are the gaps and omissions? 

There is no comprehensive collation of the current strategies in place or being developed in the region. The project will bring that analysis together. It will cover for example: LEPs and cross-LEP initiatives; government, LEP and local authority-backed bodies such as Transport for the South-East; local authority strategies for development planning, transport, housing and local economic strategies; private sector-led initiatives from organisations such as EEF, FSB, CBI, IoD and Business South, and major employers such as ABP.

Taken together, existing plans and strategies cover most of the issues that would be contained in a regional strategy. Some are quite local in focus, but many have regional and national significance. But, covering different geographies and sometimes developed in silos, it is not clear whether taken together they form a coherent, integrated approach. Nor is it clear what weaknesses and omissions exist.  Aspiration and the capacity to deliver are not the same thing.

There is an urgent need to highlight the major problems we face collectively in the central South and assess how best they can be meet through a coherent regional strategy. Our project will allow us to take that overview of the plans and strategies for our region and their efficacy.

By doing so, we can help develop a clear and shared statement of regional priorities.  This will be of immediate value to any organisations seeking to champion the region but also provide the core content of any future devolution discussions.

The SPC project

Our initial research will support a series of stakeholder seminars that will examine the main policy areas in turn. The seminars will be based on a series of original analyses which summarise current plans and proposals. These papers, writtenin an accessible and non-academic style, and based on close collaboration with the appropriate LEPs, local authorities and other bodies, will be presented to an audience of key business interest, public authorities and other stakeholders.

Seminar structure: It is proposed to cover two related topics in each seminar. This will provide the best balance between attracting the appropriate audience for each event and giving sufficient time to discuss proposals. Our initial proposal is to cover the following topics (although this may be amended as research results emerge):

Seminar 1: planning and housing

Seminar 2: transport and infrastructure, including broadband

Seminar 3: higher education and innovation

Seminar 4: learning, skills and productivity (covering both HE and FE)

Seminar 5: energy and sustainability

The seminar discussions will be moderated to focus on areas of consensus support, and to identify significant issues that are inadequately covered by existing strategies. The final project will summarise the seminar conclusions. It will highlight the policies that clearly command widespread support as regional strategies. It will also identify areas for further development.

The report will be presented to a wide range of stakeholder groups and also to the region’s elected politicians.

We want to acknowledge the generous support for the Barker Mill Estate for this project. We are seeking organisations willing to host each of the five seminars.

Our researcher, James Dobson, started work on 22ndOctober on a five-month contract.

The project is being overseen by a steering committee with representatives from local government, business, Westminster and LEPs.


Prof John Denham, Director, Southern Policy Centre

[1]Speaking at an SPC seminar in May 2017, Lord O’Neill said that the only proposal that was even considered by Ministers was that from Portsmouth-Southampton-IoW. The proposal has now been rejected by government.

‘A great place to live…if you can afford it’

The Central South is recognised as having some of the highest housing costs outside London. Our report, undertaken on behalf of Enterprise M3 LEP and Radian housing association, reviews the cost of house rental and purchase in our region and quantifies those costs, showing how they have increased in recent years. It also explores the impacts of those costs on the affordability of housing, on patterns of rental and purchase, and on commuting behaviour.

At the heart of this study is an examination of how the Central South’s business community believe high housing costs affect them. Drawing on survey data and interviews, it reveals a concern for their ability to recruit to professional, technical and support roles, and a fear amongst some that an inability to attract skilled staff will force them to re-examine plans for growth and investment, and perhaps even consider relocation.

To read the full report, click here: SPC Housing Report Revise October 2018 – WEB VERSION

Deprivation in the South

Despite its perceived affluence relative to other parts of the UK, pockets of severe multiple deprivation exist across the South Coast region. This research offers a timely corrective to over-simplistic ideas of an English North-South divide by highlighting the significance of ‘hidden’ deprivation in affluent areas. It also provides some depth and nuance to our understanding of the broader effects of deprivation, which is relevant to the ongoing debate about the ‘left behind’ in Britain and the drivers of social upheaval and political disaffection.  To read the summary report click here: MAKING ENDS MEET summary

For the full report, click here: MAKING ENDS MEET full report

Next-door neighbours – collaborative working across the London boundary

Local government obsesses about boundaries: we think they’re always wrong.  We spend hours, and pounds, looking at options for council reorganisation or Combined Authorities, and rarely agree where lines on maps should be drawn.  We seem intent on imposing our own version of order on a complex world which doesn’t respect those lines.

Nowhere is that more true than in and around our capital city. London’s economic and social networks stretch beyond the GLA’s administrative boundaries into neighbouring districts.  Nearly 900,000 people travel into London to work every day, about 1 in 6 of the capital’s total workforce.  Around 1 in 7 of workers living in the South East and East of England have their jobs in London.  Many more living outside the city’s boundary travel in for theatres, events and exhibitions, or just to shop, London residents head in the other direction, for similar reasons. Businesses have intimate links with suppliers and customers across the London boundary.  And none of them see that administrative boundary as a barrier, it’s irrelevant to everyday life.

Work with your neighbours is the key message of a report launched by the Centre for London and Southern Policy Centre on 24 January [1].  Our research, sponsored by the GLA, Hampshire and Surrey County Councils and the London-Stanstead-Cambridge Consortium, shows the intricate web of economic and social connections between London and neighbouring Counties and Districts.  It demonstrates how interdependent London and her hinterland are.

Our report highlights the common challenges we face.  The pressing need for more housing affects us all: the Government estimates that, over the next ten years London, the South East and East of England need to build over 150,000 new homes a year, yet in the past ten years the area has average just 75,000. The area surrounding London is also starved of funding, and so falling short in infrastructure investment: spending between 30% and 60% less than is needed, leading to a predicted shortfall in investment of over £10bn by the 2030s.  Yet that infrastructure is essential to keep the regional economy, including London, working.

The report also explores collaboration across the London boundary, and finds a very mixed picture.  Some local partnerships work well, and there is an emerging council-led partnership – the Wider South East Political Steering Group – which aims to bring together London Boroughs with their neighbouring shire councils.  But that partnership is in its early days and doesn’t yet have the buy-in of all who should be at the table, indeed some are unaware of its existence. Nor does it include influential bodies such as LEPs.

Our report encourages councils in and around London to strengthen the Wider South East partnership, without subsuming individual identities.  We suggest that partnership should build a shared vision and lead a more integrated approach to tackling shared challenges: housing, infrastructure, the economy.  The draft London Plan, currently out to consultation, should catalyse closer collaboration.  A shared vision and voice is particularly important as our big regional cities build increasingly powerful combined authorities.

Central Government must also play its part.  Policy making should acknowledge the Wider South East: perhaps the area needs its own Ministerial champion.  Centralised mechanisms for funding housing and infrastructure investment need to recognise the case for strategic investment across boundaries.

With the Industrial Strategy and Budget showing the Government intends to channel significant investment towards Mayoral Combined Authorities and other place-based partnerships, the case for that closer collaboration across the Wider South East is becoming unarguable.  If our Councils, LEPs, Universities and other major players cannot convince the Government we can deliver in partnership, then we risk losing investment in skills, infrastructure and housing.

No re-drawn boundary is ever going to reflect how London and her neighbours depend on one another.  The only solution is to build a partnership which allows the Wider South East to thrive. In the words of singer Jack Johnson “It’s always better when we’re together”.

[1] Next Door Neighbours: Collaborative Working Across the London Boundary – Centre for London/Southern Policy Centre, January 2018: Centre for London_Next-doors Neighbours Report