Readers may have heard about the recently published report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for South East Councils, which I Chair. The report ‘Financing the future – what does levelling up mean for South East England?’, published on 27th July, reveals significant concerns amongst local government and business groups in the region that the levelling up agenda may overlook the South East. I share their concerns, and I have also been campaigning for specific attention to be focused upon coastal communities.
The South East is a global gateway to the rest of the UK and must continue to drive economic growth in order to support the UK’s Global Agenda and build back better, as well as ensure that, as one of the country’s three regions which are net contributors to the Treasury, we can continue to do so by securing the South East’s economic foundation. Securing this foundation is vital in order to meet the challenges of the Covid pandemic, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the effects of climate change and a growing population.
It is therefore vital that the South East continues to receive the focus and investment needed in transport, education and skills, housing, health, and green tech. Connectivity, digital and transport, is key and improving our rail infrastructure is vital to economic growth, as well as meeting our decarbonisation targets. Extending HS1 from London via Ashford to Rye, Hastings, Bexhill, and Eastbourne – as well as Brighton and beyond - will not only improve radial links from our coastal towns to the capital, but also the connectivity between our coastal towns and cities – important for individuals, businesses and freight (which would help take the lorry pressure off local roads). Education and skills, both academic and technical, are the bedrock of economic growth and social prosperity, and investment in this must be something that we continue to focus on in the South East, particularly as regards the green skills and technology for the future.
We are all aware that whilst the South East is considered wealthy and affluent, we suffer some of the worst levels of deprivation in the country. It is worth noting that the South East also has an extensive coastline across Kent, East Sussex, West Sussex, and Hampshire – with coastal rural communities as well as seaside towns and cities, many of which suffer from deprivation, slow economic growth and specific challenges associated with coastal communities.
One of the recommendations that the report highlighted is that, to be truly effective, levelling up must build on place-strengths with a renewed focus on skills and business driven economic clusters. We cannot, therefore, ignore tourism and our local hospitality sector. Tourism and hospitality in Rye, like many coastal communities, is hugely important to our local economy. Whilst it was true that the pandemic badly hit this sector, and it was absolutely right that the Chancellor gave vital support to tourism and hospitality businesses throughout the coronavirus crisis, foreign travel restrictions meant that British people were ‘forced’ to go on holiday in this country. Many of our coastal towns, like Rye and Hastings, were re-invigorated by an increase in staycations and visitor numbers.
Tourism and hospitality not only showcases the best of what Britain has to offer, it is a major contributor to jobs and growth here in Rye, and this sector will continue to play a vital role in levelling up.