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South East LEP Conference addresses productivity gap


The South East Local Enterprise Partnership held its conference and AGM in London recently, inviting keynote speakers to address the productivity challenge in the UK. The Partnership, one of many across the UK, covers East Sussex, Kent and Essex and has the aim of growing the economy through effective civic and business collaboration.

At the conference were Clive Soper, FSB’s South East Policy representative, who sits on the Partnership Board (pictured left) and David Tutt, the leader of Eastbourne Borough Council (pictured right).  Graham Marley, CEO of the Let’s Do Business Group (pictured centre), was on hand in the exhibition area, as the group are the contractor for the Growth Hub service: Business East Sussex.

Keynote speaker, David Smith, Economics Editor at the Sunday Times, cited figures that showed employment levels as strong. However, productivity per worker in the south east was slightly below the national UK average which, in turn, is well below that of Germany and France. Mr Smith reasoned that this picture was due to a number of factors, not least levels of infrastructure and business investment: which was improving through the work of Government and Local Enterprise Partnerships.

He also cited basic skill levels in numeracy and literacy as comparatively low relative to other European countries. There was further discussion around the importance of environment and wellbeing to worker productivity and the ‘double edged sword’ of smartphones and social media: a useful tool for business if used appropriately but a distraction, if not.    

Building upon David Smith’s comments, Chris Brodie, South East LEP Chair, drew out the importance of innovation and technology, including the application of Robotics and Artificial Intelligence to future productivity. Through questions from the floor, how the employment landscape might be affected by this, was debated. The conference also gave the Partnership and opportunity to showcase some of its investment achievements, namely, Stansted Airport College, the £55 million redevelopment of Devonshire Park in Eastbourne, which incorporates a new Conference and Exhibition centre, and the physical and cultural regeneration of the Medway Towns.

The plenary panel ‘Q and A’ focussed on reinventing town centres as places and destinations of character. The introduction of 5G mobile and broadband services, was also discussed.