West Sussex and Gatwick could pioneer new approach to building prosperous communities

Stewart Wingate, Gatwick chief executive officer and Louise Goldsmith,  leader of West Sussex County Council.
Stewart Wingate, Gatwick chief executive officer and Louise Goldsmith, leader of West Sussex County Council.

A new approach to building prosperous communities and increasing productivity could be pioneered by West Sussex County Council and Gatwick Airport, according to a report.

The work by independent think tank Localis argues that new strategic relationships are urgently required between major businesses and the public sector to deliver local industrial strategies (LIS).

The report released this week, ‘Prosperous Communities, Productive Places’, suggests these would take the form of local productivity agreements.

Such ‘social contracts’ would set standards for good jobs and wages, help create the best-possible chance of matching local skills to major employers’ job opportunities, prioritise meeting the workforce’s housing needs, while helping major employers to access data, markets, finance, supply-chain development and expansion planning.

The report suggests that in West Sussex the production of a masterplan for Gatwick Airport presents an immediate opportunity to consider and test the productivity deal approach and ‘offer national leadership in linking local support for business productivity to place prosperity’.

The deal between Gatwick and the county council, which ‘already enjoy an excellent relationship’, would be built around shared objectives and outcomes to establish a new way of working to support both the economic and social prosperity of West Sussex.

As well as the airport’s masterplan, the county council’s own economic growth plan and the local enterprise partnership’s new strategy Gatwick 360 are also highlighted.

Louise Goldsmith, county council leader, said: “We know that big business brings many benefits to a place, but too often communities feel disenfranchised.

“We are keen to reset this relationship and explore with Gatwick and all partners the possibility of a ground breaking productivity agreements which both builds prosperous communities and supports the airport.”

The report suggests a new strategic relationship between place and the airport is required both to mitigate and manage the environmental effects of expansion and to secure the benefits of growth for local people.

This would be wider than previous agreements and should be built around the new LIS, which should outline clearly defined priorities for how areas will maximise their contribution to the UK’s productivity allowing places to make the most of their distinctive strengths.

However any LIS must be about more than economic growth and create social benefit.

A deal between Gatwick and the county council would be a commitment to meet regularly and establish a strategic conversation. Key areas would be agreed for joint working in the context of a LIS and built around a ‘balanced scorecard’ linking local productivity to place prosperity.

Stewart Wingate, Gatwick’s chief executive officer, said: “We welcome this report’s recognition that Gatwick is an important driver of the region’s economy in terms of jobs, international connections and wealth creation and that the future success of West Sussex and the airport are intrinsically linked.

“Gatwick is committed to sharing the benefits of our growth and we look forward to building on our already strong relationship with West Sussex County Council to explore how a productivity deal might boost local prosperity even further for all our neighbours.”

The report suggests new deals would facilitate regular strategic dialogue with major businesses to understand their needs and those of the community and seek joint solutions.

Meanwhile it is anticipated LIS will enable a more focused approach to place investment, meaning support for the environment and communities can be much more targeted towards need, economic or social prosperity.

The report notes that Worthing, Adur and Arun all have neighbourhoods in the 30 per cent most deprived in England, while Crawley, Arun and Chichester were recently identified in social mobility data as ‘coldspots’.

Crawley has the highest level of child poverty in the county, while more than a tenth of West Sussex children living in low-income families.

The issue of house prices around Gatwick Airport is another topic the report discusses and the impact this has on anchor employers, particularly in the South East, recruiting and retaining staff.

Innovative solutions such as bespoke accommodation are needed to help graduates remain and enter local supply chains.

The University of Chichester’s new tech park in Bognor Regis is flagged up as an ‘innovative example of responding to local business needs’.

Localis visiting fellow David Godfrey, one of the report’s authors, said: “We want to support a new way of working between major businesses and the communities where they are based – but this must be for mutual benefit.

“Combining productive businesses and prosperous places makes a compelling formula for local economic success.”