Delegates at the recent Gatwick Diamond Economic Forum got a new perspective on the regional economy, and how it can be grown, as two major new reports were presented.
Centre for Cities presented their report benchmarking the Gatwick Diamond against four other UK regions – the Thames Valley, Greater Medway, the M3 corridor, and the South East Midlands (Milton Keynes and surrounds). In a poll taken at the event just before the presentation, delegates believed our regional economy would be better than the UK average – and this proved to be true. It out-performs all but the Thames Valley our the Centre for Cities selected comparator areas with a Gross Domesti Product (GDP) per head of £63,000. The Thames Valley manages £71,000, with the UK average being £54,000.
It also rated well for residents’ skills levels and for knowledge intensive business services jobs. However, we are growing slower in that sector than our UK rivals, which could be a long term cause for concern.
A third of residents work outside the Diamond, and a third of workers live outside. This helps produce a larger difference in average weekly wag for residents and workers than is the case in the UK generally, and, along with other factors, contributes to housing being far less affordable in our region than elsewhere, with average house prices 13.2 times average annual earnings.
It was also clear from the report that our twon centres do not make as big an economic contribution as in other parts of the UK. Crawley town centre, for example, adds less proportionately to the economy that does Reading’s to the Thames Valley. This is true across our region.
The clear message was that we need to continue to expand the supply of employment space in the areas where it is most needed to allow jobs to grow, and particularly to encourage investment in town centres where those jobs can contribute to supporting the retail and night-time economies.
It’s also important that we address the housing affordability issue – companies will hesitate to move here if their employees will not be able to afford to buy homes close by. And of course, we much continue to seek improvement in public transport connections into and within the Gatwick Diamond.
Grant Thornton presented a different set of measurements, on economic vibrancy. Their index goes beyond economics and encompasses, as well as ‘prosperity’, a series of measures such as ‘dynamism & opportunity’, ‘inclusion & equality’, and ‘health, wellbeing, and happiness’. In a fascinating presentation, delegates learned that Reigate & Banstead district is in the national top ten when all these factors are considered, that Horsham, Mid-Sussex, Mole Valley and Epsom & Ewell all perform well too, with Tandridge and Crawley lagging behind.
Crawley – in the top ten nationally for prosperity in the Grant Thornton tables, was let down by its other scores, ranking as low as 281st – for ‘resilience & sustainability’. Mid-Sussex was in the top five in the UK for ‘health, wellbeing, and happiness’, with Horsham and Reigate & Banstead also making the national top ten.
Overall, we saw that there is no real relationship between prosperity and the other factors, and that it is important for businesses to look beyond GDP to understand the reasons for good and bad productivity. The relationships between places – particularly travel to work patterns – are important to employees, so investment in infrastructure, facilitating choice of work locations, is crucial to our region’s success.
Businesses need to be located where people with the right skills want to be – and can afford to be. We all need to work together to try to achieve this in the Gatwick Diamond.