Recovery in the central South: collaboration for growth

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Recovery in the central South: collaboration for growth

In June 2020 following a series of consultative seminars, the Southern Policy Centre (SPC) published a short policy paper on Recovery in the central South: collaboration for growth which sought to identify the key issues facing the central South when lockdown is eased and we move into a new economic environment.  We heard a wealth of evidence of how city and town centres are being re-shaped, innovative steps are being taken to support local business, and how major companies, universities and other organisations are adapting their business models to prepare for the new economic environment.

The over-arching message was a need for collaboration in the central South across different organisations and sectors to integrate policy responses so that they reinforce each other. 

In February 2021, as the region looks forward to following our Government’s ‘roadmap’ for bringing businesses and communities out of the pandemic, a second seminar was held to examine what progress has been made since the publication of our original report, explore how the Covid crisis has impacted the central South and discuss how we can address some of the key economic, social, and environmental issues which have arisen from the pandemic.

We heard contributions from a cross-sector panel of speakers and found that the desire for collaboration is as strong as ever. The audience were keen to see a recovery which gave a better balance between economic, environmental, and social needs and there was particular concern about the plight of young people, who were losing opportunities for learning, training and working. A copy of our latest report can be downloaded via this link and can be read in full on this page. If you have any comments or wish to discuss any of the issues raised in the report, please do get in touch and email

Recovery in the central South: an update, February 2021

Report of SPC’s seminar held on 26 February 2021

In June 2020, the Southern Policy Centre published Recovery in the central South: collaboration for growth. That report summarised the conclusions of a series of online consultations with key players from business, economic development, local authorities, further and higher education and the voluntary sector. It focused on priorities for economic recovery for the central South in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Eight months on from then, as the region looks forward to following our Government’s ‘roadmap’ for bringing businesses and communities out of the pandemic, we followed up some key themes from that discussion at a seminar held on-line on 26 February. Our five speakers examined what progress has been made since the publication of that report, explored how the COVID-19 crisis has impacted the central South and discussed how we can address some of the key economic, social, and environmental issues which have arisen from the pandemic.

This report summarises our February discussions.

Skills and young people – Sarah Stannard, City College, Southampton

In many respects, young people have been hardest hit by the pandemic and the lockdown of our economy. Many have found learning hard, some because they don’t have access to the technology required or space to work. Others have found it hard to engage with online learning. There will be a real challenge to allow learners to ‘catch-up’ and City College, along with other FE colleges across the region, are working hard to bring young people back into learning.

The key challenge is getting young people qualified and back onto the job market. That is a task made more difficult by the loss of jobs in hospitality, retail and tourism, which have traditionally offered opportunities for young people. Those on apprenticeships also face delays in completing their qualification, increasing competition from older apprentices and we are seeing fewer new opportunities.

The sector has responded to this, with Government supporting more opportunities for training young people – the Kickstart Scheme – and for re-training. The Lifetime Skills Guarantee which will guarantee equal access to four years of education post-18 is not scheduled to come into effect until 2025 but the need for adults to retrain and reskill is urgent and this should be brought forward. Colleges are also exploring opportunities that may come from ideas set out in January’s Skills for Jobs White Paper. Employers need to be at the heart of the change, working with local FE providers to ensure they can train the skilled young people needed for the future of our local economy.  Volunteers are being recruited from local business organisations such as the Hampshire Chamber of Commerce to create a local creative skills improvement plan to meet these needs.

Green recovery and sustainable growth – Alison Barnes, New Forest National Park Authority

It’s clear that people’s expectations about recovery have changed, with a desire to see an economic recovery which takes account of the importance of protecting our environment and our communities. The first SPC seminars in June 2020 emphasised how important a ‘green recovery’ was to businesses and communities alike.

Alongside local expectations of a different approach, national policy is also encouraging that fresh perspective: whether the Prime Minister’s 10 point green industrial revolution or the changes to funding regime for farmers which encourage spending to protect and enhance nature, what Ministers have called “public money for public good”.

The Greenprint for South Hampshire is our local response to this. Supported by the Partnership for South Hampshire and shaped by colleagues from across the region, the Greenprint sets out a framework which will encourage collaboration on shared priorities. Those priorities range from aiming for a zero-carbon economy and communities through to improved health and wellbeing and creating jobs in the green economy. They reflect what is distinctive about the local economy, our environment and South Hampshire’s communities.

The Greenprint is a pragmatic and practical approach to how best we can rebuild our economy in a more sensitive and environmentally aware way. It offers a basis for the public and private sectors to work together and respond to the growing desire for positive change in how we live and work.

Strengthening communities – Jonathan Cheshire

It has been a challenging year for voluntary organisations. Whilst some have remained able to contribute – to food banks, for example – many have struggled as funding has reduced, volunteers have been unavailable and users have been unable to use many services: lunch clubs, for example, have fallen away during lockdown.

Many have responded by changing their business model, going online for example. And new organisations have sprung up to support those forced to isolate. But there is no doubt that the sector has faced real difficulties just as there was a demand for their support.

Hampshire & Isle of Wight Community Foundation were able to offer some assistance, raising over £5m, including support from Hampshire County Council and Government funding. The furlough scheme has also helped keep organisations ticking over.

However, the sector will face some real challenges as this support ends. No doubt some funding and volunteer support will return, perhaps even with a more active appreciation of the sector’s value. But many will have to re-shape their business model to survive.

Future of our city centres – Daniel Curtis, Blake Morgan

The centres of the central South’s cities have many roles: from being homes to businesses and retail centres to a focus for leisure and culture. All of these roles have been changing in recent years as our behaviours and day-to-day habits changed, and the covid-19 crisis has accelerated many of those trends. They are unlikely to be reversed.

As SPC’s research on city centres, which Blake Morgan sponsored, has shown, cities need to re-invent themselves to remain attractive and relevant places. This may mean taking a fresh look at what can attract people to live, work or visit the city centre in future. New models for retail and working are evolving, and new challenges are emerging – for example significant changes to the planning system which could see retail or business premises lost to housing.

As we begin to build a recovery, city centres must recognise how people’s expectations have changed, with a greater focus on nature, the environment and sustainability. Technology is central to many people’s lives, and city centres need to embrace the digital world and explore how it can improve their offer.

To survive and continue to thrive we will have to develop fresh ideas for our city centres, and perhaps take risks in re-defining their purpose in daily life. There will still be a place for offices and shops, but they will look and function very differently. And leisure will be a central part of the post-lockdown city centre, after all, “everyone needs a little hedonism!”

Collaboration – Mark E Smith, University of Southampton

Perhaps the most significant lesson from the last year is the importance of collaboration. We will only get the recovery we want if public and private sector organisations work together. The central South’s Universities have an important role to play in shaping that recovery.

Southampton University has been working with NHS colleagues and business to help in the fight against coronavirus, with its world-leading research teams helping in the development of new testing regimes. But perhaps more surprisingly, they have been a key player in a County-wide initiative to explore how we can best create an exciting narrative for our place, an essential building block for economic and social recovery.

The Hampshire Place Story has brought together businesses, councils and others to develop that narrative. At its heart is a story of prosperity and opportunity, but also a recognition that we face economic, social, and environmental challenges. Getting that story right should help us drive recovery, bringing investment to the area.

Some key messages from our discussions

The seminar’s audience were keen to see a recovery which gave a better balance between economic, environmental, and social needs – “ending the apartheid between the environment and the economy” as one speaker put it. Equally, whilst many recognised that our region had many economic advantages, they did not want to see some of the pressing social needs our communities face glossed over.

There was particular concern about the plight of young people, who were losing opportunities for learning, training and working. Their future should be a priority for investment. One opportunity was for businesses, councils and the FE and HE sectors to collaborate in creating a detailed ‘map’ of the region’s skills needs. The Skills White Paper offered an opportunity to pilot such an approach.

One participant spoke about the importance of using technology to build ’smart’ cities and communities, using data to shape more responsive and tailored services. He gave as an example collaborative work across the Bristol City region which aimed to develop a fresh, collaborative approach to ‘smart’ place management.

In summary, SPC’s John Denham drew four key messages from the seminar:

  • There was a sense of ‘change’ running through our efforts to guide recovery, accepting that the future would be different, with a changing set of priorities. There seemed to be a consensus about the need for a fresh balance between the economy, environment and society, and a willingness to embrace new ways of doing things;
  • The central South is seeing a slow return to a new version of ‘normal’, but some parts of our community, notably young people and the less well off, continue to face real challenges and should be a focus for our efforts;
  • The central South has some strong institutions, and together they are well placed to create a clear and coherent shared narrative for our future;
  • Collaboration is vital to a successful recovery. That needs to evolve, building on relationships which already exist across the region. Collaboration is not about structures or geographies, but conversations and shared visions – “collaboration is more a matter of mind than of structures.”

Simon Eden

3rd March 2021

Postscript: Solent LEP’s successful bid for freeport status was announced by the Chancellor in the 2nd March budget. Whilst the overall advantages of freeport status are not yet clear, the potential benefits to the central South could be sizeable. The policy may attract investment to the local area and be of particular value to ‘left behind’ communities whilst furthermore accelerating innovation, helping to de-carbonise the economy and contribute to the ‘greenprint’ discussed at the seminar.  There will be a need to explore how the freeport can contribute to tackling the social ‘levelling up’ issues around skills, education and health in the area, which SPC will be examining in a report to be launched soon.

Recovery in the central South: collaboration for growth, June 2020


Southern Policy Centre has been working with the public and private sector to identify the key issues facing the central South when lockdown is eased and we move into a new economic environment. This new policy paper, based on three consultation seminars, identifies a number of key areas for urgent action. Download a copy of the report here.

In this short paper, we identify key themes that will enhance regional economic recovery from the recession that will follow the coronavirus pandemic. The over-arching message is of the need for collaboration in the central South across different organisations and sectors to integrate policy responses so that they reinforce each other.  The region needs to develop a new focus on ‘place based’ policies to support recovery leading to green and sustainable long-term growth.

Over 60 participants from business, local government, economic development, Higher and Further education and the voluntary and community sector took part in three seminars that helped shape this paper. We heard a wealth of evidence of how city and town centres are being re-shaped, innovative steps are being taken to support local business, and how major companies, universities and other organisations are adapting their business models to prepare for the new economic environment.

It was clear that the lockdown was accelerating the pace of social, environmental, economic, and technological changes that were already well underway. We cannot return everything to the way it was in the past but must plan positively for a new future. This will be done against the background of other challenges, including Brexit, and a more restrictive immigration system, that will also have a marked economic impact.

A government white paper on devolution is expected later this year. Collaboration on recovery from the pandemic can help lay a strong foundation for a future devolution bid for the area.

1. The central South

Over the last year, the Southern Policy Centre has worked with stakeholders across the region to develop a narrative description of the central South.

The central South has three waterfront cities with diverse and complementary economies. With a population of around 2 million people, the region stretches from the Isle of Wight across Hampshire towards the economies of Surrey, the Thames Valley and London and enjoys strengths in maritime industries, advanced manufacturing, digital technologies, defence and aerospace. The region has two national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty and a superb coastline, and has a strong cultural, tourist and heritage offer.  Our universities are centres of learning, innovation and world class research. The region is internationally facing with strong links through its ports, airports, rail and road to other parts of the UK, Europe and the rest of the world.

This narrative has already been used by, amongst others, the partnership that had planned to attend the MIPIM property conference. As a regional ‘brand’ it remains powerful. As a recognisable geographical area, albeit with flexible boundaries, it provides a practical focus for collaboration and cooperation. It can be a starting point for our plans for economic recovery.

2. Public confidence and communications

Public confidence will be essential if people are to return to shops, work and other economic activity. Current polls suggest a drop in confidence in central government information, while there may also be a dangerous break-down in public support for essential social distancing.  With the possibility of future localised lockdowns, it will be essential to establish reliable, consistent and trustworthy local information about the spread of the virus, adherence to public health measures, school openings and also, on the more positive side, what is available in towns, cities, coast and countryside across the central South.

There is a pressing need for consistent regional communications and messaging across the central South to foster public confidence and convey accurate local information. Public trust in local government, the police and the NHS remains high, and the potential for Local Resilience Forums to lead these communications should be explored. Much key data already derives from local agencies, and government should be lobbied to release other data only available centrally.

3. Collaboration amongst key institutions and businesses

The seminars emphasised that the regional economy is dependent on a relatively small number of ‘anchor’ institutions and businesses, particularly local authorities, higher education, NHS Trusts, the ports and airports. The support of public transport is critical.  All these organisations face challenging financial and business conditions. It is important that central government recognises the interdependence and avoids policies that could destabilise individual bodies with serious knock-on effects on the wider economy.

Within the central South, strong partnerships need to be formed between these anchor institutions. These should be centred on each of the major travel-to-work economies but also co-operate together.  These partnerships can play an important role in leading local economic recovery through:

  • Developing a clear and consistent vision of the new and better future for each major city and town within it and for the region as a whole, reflecting the changes brought  about by the pandemic;
  • Focussing procurement on local suppliers and businesses to local economic wealth creation and social gain;
  • Supporting reskilling and upskilling in the regional workforce;
  • Ensuring that Further Education (FE) and Higher Education (HE) can offer appropriate and flexible support to local business on knowledge exchange and further and higher-level skills and education;
  • Ensuring a consistent approach in response to our environmental challenges and opportunities.

Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) will have an important role to play in supporting partnerships amongst the ‘anchor institutions’ and local and regional collaboration to facilitate growth.

Where recovery may be delayed for some time (such as with the cruise industry or the airports) regional collaboration should ensure that, where possible, plans for future activity are agreed so that there are no unnecessary delays once market conditions improve.

4. Being ready for, and encouraging new investment

New investment will depend on both government support and private investor confidence. It appears that investment remains available in innovative sectors with good long-term growth capacity. House building will attract investment provided land supply, match funding and infrastructure issues are resolved. The planning system also needs to be agile and responsive, to support new investment.

Early action on key transport and broadband infrastructure will ensure that renewed growth is not constrained and that all areas of the region, including the rural economy can recover. Innovative investment schemes using crowd-funding and matched public funds have already been developed locally. Investment plans should help consolidate some changes, such as working patterns, that we want to retain for the future.

Action by local authorities, LEPs and the private sector might include:

  • Promoting those business sectors that may already be in a position to attract investment;
  • Ensuring that there is a pipeline of housing, infrastructure and other construction projects that are ‘shovel-ready’ once investment becomes available from the private or public sector;
  • Agreeing a regional priority list for digital and transport infrastructure investment in the central south with which we can lobby government;
  • Promoting successful innovation in investment within the region and seeking greater flexibility from central government to enable these to grow;
  • Ensuring investment has regard to local environmental challenges and concerns.

5. Business support

While support cannot be maintained for companies that are likely to fail in any case, it is important that the government takes a flexible approach and continues support in sectors with a viable long-term future but whose recovery will be slow. As broad-based employment support schemes are withdrawn, unemployment will rise and the ability to support new business start-ups, including social enterprises, will be essential.  Small business contributes  60% of employment and over 50% of turnover. Regional collaboration should assess whether existing business support from LEPs and local authorities, including advice, grants and finance, and access to public sector procurement, has the capacity to meet demand. Where necessary government should be pressed to support business start-ups through tax, regulation and access to external finance. Business support needs to be well integrated with support for skills development.

6. Making effective use of spare capacity

The recession will create capacity, including unused office and retail space and in Higher and Further education. Some companies may have under-employed staff who they still wish to retain. This spare capacity offers new opportunities to support economic recovery and meet social need. Local place-based strategies should identify the potential for re-purposing this spare capacity.

These could include:

  • Re-using premises for housing, including temporary homes for homeless people;
  • Short- term licensing of empty property for other purposes;
  • Flexible delivery of skills and higher education;
  • Retraining of current workforce and offering some training/work experience to others.

7. Ensuring a future for young people and opportunities for all

To avoid a ‘lost generation’ of young school and college leavers, some form of government skills and intermediate labour market programme will be required. The Prime Minister has talked of an apprenticeship for every young person, although no details are yet available. Additionally, people working in specific sectors or from certain demographic groups may be disproportionately impacted by the changes in the economy and will require targeted interventions to support their access to, and progression in employment. Our local collaboration should now be identifying the type of programmes and initiatives that would work in the central South to meet the needs of our communities, including young people and those with low skills, as well as for businesses and the future demands of the central South’s economy. It should explore how the apprenticeship levy could be repurposed to support flexible and effective training.

This vision should be developed by colleges, LEPs, employers, local authorities and other providers.  It should be used both to lobby government and our regional MPs, to ensure that any new government programme is well used. and that any national employment programmes are delivered with the incentives and support to maximise local take-up and impact.

We should also recognise the opportunities offered by the skilled graduates from local universities. Local authorities and LEPs should work with universities to retain graduate skills in key sectors for the central South.

8. Strengthening communities

The lockdown has demonstrated the value of cohesive and resilient communities in which people support one another.  Strong communities underpin economic activity by supporting health and social wellbeing, access to paid and voluntary work and local enterprise development. They are also a key component in the recovery and regeneration of town and city centres.

However, many voluntary and community-based organisations are struggling and may not survive the recession, and the more deprived communities in the central South are likely to suffer disproportionately from the recession and find it hardest to recover.  The region’s economic recovery plans must include measures to strengthen local communities, including investment in local homes, supporting community and voluntary organisations, leisure and cultural services and enabling communities to have a voice in shaping their future and their local economies.

9. A green and sustainable future

Future growth must be both sustainable and help meet climate change objectives, and the government has already indicated that it wants to move policy in this direction. The central South has a key contribution to make to sustainable growth. We have many companies working in relevant fields and technologies. The region has a strong research base in higher education. There are many opportunities to de-carbonise homes, business premises and transport.

Local authorities, LEPs, the national parks and other agencies have already done much work in this area. The Southern Policy Centre believes there is a good case to draw the different strands together in a single ‘green growth’ prospectus for the central South. We should recognise our environmental assets give us the ability to make the link between green economic growth and the health and wellbeing benefits of a sustainable relationship with the environment.

10. Conclusion

It was clear from our seminars that organisations across the central South are undertaking a huge volume of work responding to the immediate crisis and planning for the future. We hope that this paper has highlighted some of the key cross-cutting issues that were raised, and that it has identified a number of areas of practical co-operation that would enhance the existing efforts of many different agencies.

June 2020

Prof. John Denham

Denise Edghill

Dr. Simon Eden

Thank you to Radian for their generous support of this event.



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