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Nathan Elvery: why are Gatwick's skilled jobs not benefiting Crawley?

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Obscured by the fog from Westminster’s Brexit theatrics, our national productivity crisis has evaded close attention and scrutiny. But recent economic signs and official statistics suggest this problem isn’t going away.

The warning is clear and evident. Without a productivity revolution, we cannot generate the tax revenues to fund vital public services, finance vital infrastructure and improve living standards.

So while a transfixed central government throws ever greater energy, time and resources into working out how to manage our departure from the European Union, our businesses and communities face daily challenges in our localities which have to be addressed regardless.

As leaders of place, we’re still wrestling with big issues. We continue working to make our residents’ lives better, despite the distractions.

One of our priorities in West Sussex is ensuring that the county remains prosperous. A key driver of prosperity is our dominant local economic anchor, Gatwick Airport. Our local enterprise partnership, Coast to Capital’s recently published strategic economic plan recognises this, as does West Sussex CC’s own economic growth plan.

We know that big business brings many benefits to a place, but too often communities feel disenfranchised. Residents fail to benefit from the high value jobs that economic anchors provide, but that they do face the negative impacts such as increasingly unaffordable housing, and creaking infrastructure that can’t cope with business growth.

The challenge is highlighted by the fact residents of Crawley do not take up the highly paid, highly skilled jobs that Gatwick Airport creates. As the strategic authority and place leader, we have to ask not just why is this happening, but what action do we need to take to change it?

Ultimately, the relationship between place and business is a symbiotic one. So the onus is for both parties, economic anchors and place-leaders, to commit to the wellbeing of people and place to drive local growth that supports the prosperity of communities – if they don’t neither communities nor businesses will thrive.

Localis’s report, Prosperous Communities, Productive Places, seeks to establish a framework for strategic conversations between economic anchors and strategic authorities – county councils or combined authorities – to collaborate with the ambition to build prosperous communities.

We welcome this report and its effort to reframe the responsibility businesses have for place building in the 21st century: its findings will inform our engagement with Gatwick.

Our approach will be broad and deep to seek, as the strategic authority, to build a shared vision for place, community and the role that Gatwick and other anchors have in ensuring prosperous communities put down roots and thrive.

Our ask in return will be for business to take a fresh approach to corporate social responsibility that links directly to our region’s local industrial strategy for promoting economic growth – and in line with the five foundations of national industrial strategy. Strategic authorities must co-ordinate a public sector innovation offer providing greater access to data, markets and finance, skills and spatial planning.

We see this as renewing a social contract and not regulatory but consensual to build place prosperity and support business productivity. I am pleased to say that Gatwick and our partners in the region appear to be of the same view – and so we have a good foundation from which to build.

In the end, this all comes down to relationships. We need to renew the vows between local economic anchors and ‘place’, with a commitment from business to deliver more good jobs – higher wages, better skill supply chains, and support local housing and infrastructure.

If we are successful, the symbiotic relationship between business and place will become a virtuous circle – and we will all thrive together.

Nathan Elvery, chief executive, West Sussex CC

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