A regional green infrastructure ‘new deal’ and an online cultural showcase are just two ways in which Greater Brighton could boost growth and help the area bounce back from COVID-19.
Like much of the UK, the City Region – which covers much of the Sussex coast and reaches north to Gatwick – is predicted to be hit hard by the global pandemic with official estimates of an 11 percent loss of productivity in the next 12 months.
However experts commissioned by the Greater Brighton Economic Board (GBEB) believe the diverse nature of the regional economy means the area could be back on track within the next three to five years.
This will be helped by growth in digital gaming, staycations and the independent food sector, all of which have been boosted by lockdown and are significant elements of the Greater Brighton economy.
To support key aspects of the economy recovery in the coming years, the report by consultants Hatch recommended the board consider using its resources to lobby for a number of interventions.
This includes supporting the creation of an online virtual stage to support arts, festivals and conferences; establishing a High Street Recovery Commission to bring landlords together to reimagine town centres; funding an Artists Resilience Fund, to coordinate grants for individual performers; and setting up a Green Infrastructure New Deal, which is bold and ambitious enough to attract government investment.
Greater Brighton leaders welcomed the report at a virtual meeting held last week (July 14, 2020) and agreed to work collectively on ways in which it could support the regional economy.
Cllr Daniel Humphreys, Chairman of Greater Brighton, said:
“The COVID-19 pandemic has, and will continue to have, a huge impact on the global economy. Yet thanks to the creativity and entrepreneurial spirit of Greater Brighton residents, and the real diverse nature of our businesses there is lots to be positive about in the City Region.
“The onus is on us as decision makers and business representatives to think about how we can use our influence to support the regional economy over the next couple of years. We know it will not be easy but we are confident that by working together we can deliver real benefits to the more than one million people living in Greater Brighton.”
The Hatch report noted that since March an estimated 7,700 businesses have had to temporarily close while, like elsewhere in the UK, around a third of workers aged 18-24 have been furloughed or lost their jobs.
Among the hardest hit sectors are manufacturing (estimated £770 million losses in 2020 – 23% total value), education (£638 million – 38%), arts & entertainment (£148 million – 42%) and wholesale and retail trade (£431 million – 21%).
With no support, the region’s estimated year of recovery to achieve pre-COVID Gross Value Added (GVA) levels, the measure of the value of goods and services produced in an area, is 2028.
But, the report suggested that if GVA growth was doubled, then Greater Brighton could get back on track within three to five years – but this would require a number of sectors to continue to develop.
The report says:
“There are…many positive stories that signal the Greater Brighton region may be more resilient: the strong advance manufacturing base has only been marginally hit; the region’s strength in pharmaceuticals and medtech has led to revenue growth for many companies; and the strong gaming development cluster in Brighton and data application development cluster in Crawley have both boomed.”
It noted there would also need to be a focus on areas like retail, food and accommodation, which did not contribute as much financially to the local economy but were essential to its attraction and make-up.
The report also noted there were real opportunities, such as the increasing trend for working from home leading to London-based businesses looking to relocate away from capital.
Photo (top): Chairman of Greater Brighton Cllr Daniel Humphreys on a previous visit to the music room at Northbrook MET West Durrington Campus