Business leaders spell out big picture for Brighton and Hove Fairness Commission

Posted On 20 Jan 2016 at 8:45 pm

Two local business leaders shared an overview of some of the big issues facing employers at a meeting of the Brighton and Hove Fairness Commission.

Gavin Stewart, executive director, of the Brighton and Hove Economic Partnership, and Sarah Springford, director of the Brighton and Hove Chamber of Commerce, addressed the commission at Whitehawk Library.

Mr Stewart said this evening (Wednesday 20 January) that locally the public sector accounted for about 21 per cent of jobs.

But Brighton and Hove City Council, for example, was required to save about £68 million – or £46,000 a day – from its budget. The council is expecting to shed jobs as part of its efforts to save money.

Gavin Stewart

Gavin Stewart

Mr Stewart said that the financial services sector employed about 13,500 people – or almost 10 per cent of the workforce.

Tourism, which is worth £1 billion a year, was sometimes overlooked. He said that 11 million visitors came to Brighton and Hove last year, up from eight million just a few years ago. There were 110 hotels, with 5,000 rooms and 9,000 beds in the city.

The burgeoning creative, digital and information technology (CDIT) sector employed about 7,000 people, with the creative industries sector worth about £400 million a year.

He highlighted the health sector and environmental industries, including the Rampion wind farm, as significant sectors and where businesses were working with the two universities in Brighton.

And, he added, the retail and leisure sectors employed about 25 per cent of the local workforce.

On the home front, the draft City Plan identified a need to build 24,000 homes by 2026 but land had been identified for just 13,000 homes.

Also there was a need for 112,000 square metres of work space but the sites identified accounted for only 85 per cent of the demand.

Brighton and Hove needs good quality office stock, he said, but out of the existing 468 000 square metres but just 3 per cent was “grade A” – the best quality.

The two universities admitted 7,000 students a year and contributed towards Brighton and Hove having the fourth best qualified workforce in the country.

But the local skills gap was exemplified by graduates working in coffee shops, blocking what would otherwise be entry level jobs for the relatively unqualified.

This wasn’t helped by poor attainment levels – for example, five good GCSEs – with a local rate below the national average for eight years.

Sarah Springford

Sarah Springford

On a more positive note, the number of 16 to 18-year-olds “not in employment, education or training” – also known as Neets – had dropped to the lowest level for eight years.

Mr Stewart spoke about transport, pointing out that every day 37,000 people commute out of Brighton and Hove to London and elsewhere.

The eight local railway stations recorded 19.5 million passenger journeys a year, while 33,000 commuters came into the city for work. East-west roads in particular were often under strain.

The jobseeker’s allowance claimant count stood at its lowest for 20 years – 1.4 per cent compared with a national average of 1.5 per cent.

Median earnings in Brighton and Hove were £26,760, he said, compared with £28,700 in the wider south east and £27,500 nationally. This made the cost of housing unaffordable for a growing number of people.

Mr Stewart added that the Economic Partnership aimed to build greater connectivity between the public, private and third sector.

Chamber of Commerce director Sarah Springford spoke about the Brighton and Hove Living Wage Campaign.

She said that it had been about persuading businesses and other employers to sign up, looking at the positive business case for doing so.

Ms Springford said that the chamber had recently recruited its 250th living wage employer which was Raise Bakery, adding: “We’ve signed up five new businesses today (Wednesday 20 January).”

As a result of the campaign, 2,795 salaries had been raised, she said, and “as far as I know it’s the only business-led campaign and something we can be really proud of”.

Raise Bakery celebrates becoming the 250th employer to sign up to the Brighton and Hove Living Wage Campaign

Raise Bakery celebrates becoming the 250th employer to sign up to the Brighton and Hove Living Wage Campaign

It had seemed to be easier for digital and third sector businesses but harder for the tourism and hospitality sector.

Ms Springford said: “We recently surveyed the businesses that had signed up and over 70 per cent said that signing up had had a positive impact for their staff and their business.”

There was some confusion with the existing minimum wage and the national living wage which was being introduced by the government.

The rate for the Brighton and Hove living wage was set independently, she said. “It’s the amount that you need to earn to have a decent life.”

Employers seemed reluctant to pay to be accredited as a national living wage employer, with 41 per cent against the prospect of stumping up.

Vic Rayner

Vic Rayner

The chamber was, she said, a not-for-profit organisation. It’s not part of the council and it’s not funded by the government.

It’s about thinking how we can help the businesses in Brighton and Hove to thrive and grow.

She outlined the next steps for the chamber and its business members. They included faster decisions about planning applications, including small-scale matters such as broadband infrastructure, shop facades and access routes to offices.

Broadband improvements were needed.

She wanted to see an emphasis across the area on growing businesses while ensuring that this fitted in with the existing business culture.

And she wanted a better brand for Brighton and Hove as a place to do business so more employers moved here.

Loan and/or equity funding for the growing businesses in the Greater Brighton area was much needed – as was more move-on space for growing businesses. And there was a need for more co-working space and affordable offices and workshops.

She wanted more affordable housing for employees in Brighton and Hove and added: “It’s not an exhaustive list but it includes some of the things we’re working on.”

At the meeting, chared by Vic Rayner, other speakers included

  • Sally Brett, senior policy officer at the TUC
  • Kirsten Trussell, skills development manager at the Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP)
  • Neil Blanchard, the chief executive of Southdown Housing
  • Richard Scothorne and Caroline Masundire, consultants from Rocket Science who are working on the next City Employment and Skills Plan

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