Labour was guilty of ignoring areas of deprivation in the South East that were in dire need of regeneration
Local Enterprise Zones (LEZs), a central policy in the coalition government’s drive for regional economic growth in the UK is being implemented at breakneck speed.
The aim for the delivery of ’business-friendly’ areas that will offer firms both tax breaks and relaxed planning restrictions to encourage trade bases has entered its next phase with a fresh round of announcements. It’s pleasing to see that for the first time, two areas in the South East will now feel the benefit.
The news that Gosport will feature in government plans to kick start the economy should be welcomed given that the region has largely been overlooked in fiscal development policy for the past year and a half.
It is seldom reported, but there are areas of deprivation in the South East that need as much regeneration attention as the North.
There was a concern that the current government would maintain the policy of the former Labour government of investing public money into the Midlands and the North, while the South, perceived as prosperous, would be neglected.
While London has prospered however, it is incorrect to assume that this has impacted positively on the rest of Southern England. It is seldom reported, but there are areas of deprivation in the South East that need as much regeneration attention as the North.
Parts of Thanet in Kent, for example, a district located in the North East part of the region feature highly on the latest UK deprivation index, ranking 22nd, 33rd and 81st. So it was good news to learn that Sandwich, in Thanet is to receive an LEZ too.
Robinson Low Francis (RLF) has worked extensively on education projects in both Hampshire and Kent in recent months and has witnessed firsthand, the need for financial attention in specific areas that have significant disparities with the general prosperity of the South East. These areas haven’t felt the perceived benefit of financial favouritism in the South and so as a result, haven’t been primary focuses for the coalition up until now.
Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), the groups responsible for the delivery of LEZs in individual regions have been working hard in the South East to secure the opportunity for rapid business development, despite only being set up last year to replace Regional Development Agencies.
In this part of the country there are just two, covering a vast region; Coast to Capital, the umbrella group for Croydon, the Gatwick Diamond, Brighton and Hove and West Sussex, and additionally the Kent and Greater Essex and East Sussex (KGEES) body.
Sussex remains without an LEZ at this stage but what strikes me about the latter group, the KGEES, is the size of its remit. It’s certainly the biggest LEP currently in existence. With the combination of a vast area of a responsibility and a general perception that the South has benefited from an abundance of funding in the past, any decision on an additional LEZ in the South East will probably only affect one part of this large region.
More unified funding structures would need to be put in place both by government and at an LEP level
If Sussex is successful in its bid for an LEZ, it will require a strong level of leadership and long-term vision to ensure benefits for the various districts are maximised to their full potential. Establishing partnerships between large-scale stakeholders and local businesses with schools and hospitals could help to ensure a more long-term legacy is created, across a wider area.
Additionally, more unified funding structures would need to be put in place both by government and at an LEP level. Many different incentive systems are currently available to encourage local development such as the Regional Growth Fund and Tax Increment Financing (TIF). But a more joined up approach in what is on offer will be required to make a second South East enterprise zone a success.
Sussex aside, today’s development with Gosport and Sandwich marks an important step in bringing some of the attention back to the South East to where it is needed the most.
Richard Apps is a partner at Robinson Low Francis (RLF)