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Chairman reviews his first year with calls to bridge skills gap

Released: Tuesday, 28 November 2017

More needs to be done to bridge the gap between educational achievement in areas of the West Sussex coast and the high end skills needs of its businesses, the leader of an influential business group says today.

PR17-163 - Geoff Edwards, Chairman of the Coastal West Sussex Partnership

Geoff Edwards, chairman of the Coastal West Sussex Partnership (see photo right) says the gulf is still too wide leaving local young people unable to seize the chance to work in blue chip companies such as Rolls-Royce and Ricardo or the growing number of new entrepreneurial businesses starting along the coast.

Mr Edwards, Vice-President Operations at the Worthing based deluxe sound system company Bowers & Wilkins was speaking on the anniversary of his chairmanship of the partnership.

“I think this partnership has been tremendously successful, we've made a difference and we want to keep doing that, but there is more work to be done,” he said, “ We have developed a commonality of voice, where local authorities and businesses are working much closer together to kick start and lead activities that support the economy.”

“We've developed a coherent and collective view about how we improve the coastal economy for everybody's benefit. That is important because this has never been about what is simply good for business it's about having ideas and putting effort into bringing about social and economic benefits for the good of the entire area.”

But he warned that there was still much to do particularly in ensuring the need to tackle deprivation and educational standards seen along the coast.

“We actually have some of the most deprived areas with poor educational achievements in the country sitting near employers needing a highly skilled workforce and being forced to search further afield to fill the posts,” he said.

He added it was important government didn't forget that and fall into the trap of thinking coastal West Sussex as part of the affluent south east with few needs.

Coastal West Sussex Partnership

The Coastal West Sussex Partnership is a body of both private companies and public sector authorities brought together to promote sustainable development of communities. Its role is to influence, co-ordinate, lobby and lead in ways that may sometimes be more difficult for business or Local Authorities alone to do.

It works across traditional boundaries to put people at the heart of regeneration on the West Sussex coast and has already had success in promoting the importance of enterprise and STEM subjects within schools; creating the right governance to manage cross boundary planning issues and influencing investment decisions that will support economic growth

It takes a regional, larger than local, approach to issues across Adur, Worthing, Arun and Chichester. All local authorities are represented on the board of the Partnership as are the Institute of Directors, University of Chichester, Southern Water, Shoreham Port and other private sector companies.

Mr Edwards said that in his first year as chairman it had become apparent that the Partnership had successfully broken down barriers between the private and public sectors.

“It's interesting that there can be a view within the private sector that local authorities are not very supportive of business but it is also true that businesses don't always appreciate the pressure councils are under, “ he said. For example, 'the need for sites to allow businesses to grow being balanced against the needs for councils to meet the local housing target'.”

“The Partnership has helped to break down these misunderstandings and there is an improving and shared understanding that can help unlock economic growth.”

“There's a lot of business people and public sector officials giving up a lot of their spare time to help the Partnership forge a strategy for growth for the entire coastal West Sussex region,” he said, “There are many great reasons to live and work here but we cannot be complacent.”

“We need to keep fighting for this area. There's plenty of work to be done to secure more investment, in equipping our young people with the right skills for the rest of their lives and attracting more people to work, live and contribute to our wonderful coast.”

See also:

Q&A with Geoff Edwards

Q) Sum up your first year as chairman of the Partnership?

A) It's been a busy year with a growing number of projects and opportunities to promote the coastal area as a place to work, live and invest. Clearly the coastal area has its challenges but with a strong partnership between the business community and the public and education sector, we can work better together to address them

Q) Can you describe one achievement or event from the year which for you sums up the Partnership at its best?

This probably has to be the event that was hosted by Ricardo's in their Centenary Centre in Shoreham. The Chief Economist from the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, Simon Rubinsohn, addressed a broad and mixed audience from the area. The event was a great opportunity to showcase the very best of the Coastal West Sussex area and promote new activities that promote growth in the future. But more than that, it opened people's eyes and made them realise that there is so much happening in a relatively small area to support economic growth.

Q) How have you found chairing an organisation that has many different organisations with often different priorities and carving out a single voice from that? It must be like herding cats!

A) It can be a challenge because each organisation will have their own priorities or reason for being part of the Partnership. However, there is a common aim which is to improve the economic performance and support sustainable growth along the whole coastal strip therefore each organisation has a role to play, individually or collectively.

The CWS Partnership is the only forum that brings together this mix of people and gives them the opportunity to see the bigger picture and to think more about taking a joined up approach which supports growth

Q) What are your ambitions for the Partnership moving forward?

A) We need to make a difference and make sure that all partners see a value in the CWS Partnership and have a reason for remaining involved so we are always look for new opportunities to address those 'larger than local' challenges.

We're keen to build stronger constituency with all our local authority partners and MP's but we also need to encourage more businesses to contribute to the debates as its that which makes the Partnership unique.

Background on the Partnership

Coastal West Sussex Partnership

The Coastal West Sussex Partnership (CWS) is where the worlds of business, education and the public sector collaborate to promote economic issues and regeneration.

It seeks to champion a better educated workforce and greater opportunities for employment and enterprise. By working across traditional boundaries, both geographical and disciplinary, CWS aims to promote a unified approach for skills, tourism and the economy.

It has produced an Economic Plan for 2016-2020 which contains proposals to make the coast an attractive place for inward investment, improve transport infrastructure, foregrounds digital innovation as a crucial ingredient for a successful economic future and promotes a coherent tourism message for the area.

Skills training is a crucial part of CWS's mandate and a special Skills and Enterprise Group is charged with bringing together training providers, educationalists and businesses to ensure our residents, young and old are equipped with the knowledge they need for personal success.

A special emphasis on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects has led the Partnership to organise a successful festival to inspire young people to study these subjects in school.

Coastal STEMfest logo

The Coastal STEMfest is an interactive experience for young people in which experts and local businesses can give them hands-on experience of the exciting possibilities in the subjects. The next Coastal STEMfest takes place in February and March 2018 culminating in the 'Big Bang at Butlins' on the 8th March 2018.

Emphasising its 'regional' credentials the Partnership has recently taken a robust line on plans to upgrade the A27 calling for Highways England to take a 'holistic' approach in West Sussex rather than the piecemeal schemes it is currently promoting.

Among the members of the Partnership are West Sussex County Council, Adur District Council, Arun District Council, Chichester District Council, Worthing Borough Council, University of Chichester, Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Ricardo, Chichester College and Greater Brighton Met College.

The Partnership is always keen to hear from business people who would like to be more involved in shaping the future economy for Coastal West Sussex. To find out more visit the:

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