Published: 18 November 2021

Charting community based-growth in Surrey

As part of the ESRC Festival of Social Science, the Centre for Britain and Europe (CBE) held an online event to launch the Charting Community-Based Growth In Surrey: Local Responses And County Drivers report (PDF).

David Tillo
Written by David Tillo

This is the second report as part of the CBE’s relationship with Surrey County Council. Building on the key themes of the first report (PDF), four key themes were highlighted: the rejuvenation of the high street; employment and skills; inward investment; and sustainability and the green economy. Chaired by Dr Alia Middleton, the panel engaged in a discussion of the report’s outputs.

Frances Rutter, Chief Executive and Principal of Nescot College discussed how Surrey is currently a county of two halves. There is a high concentration of wealth and high-level skills, but there’s also a noticeable skills gap which needs to be addressed. Frances shared how recent government schemes such as Kickstart have shown the need to bring employers closer to education and education closer to employers.

Robert Moran, Chief Executive of Elmbridge Borough Council, highlighted Surrey’s importance to the economy of the South of England. Surrey is a net contributor to the Exchequer, and the county’s success lies in localism and the synergies arising from the concentration of innovation and entrepreneurship in a location that provides. This local advantage needs to be maximised and preserved as the economy recovers from the scars the pandemic has left. Robert stressed the importance of key workers and how the cost of living in the county is becoming unsustainable. The county’s anchor institutions need to provide a coherent and uniform message to retain young talent and provide them with a future worth living.

Christian Turner, a PhD student at the University of Surrey and a junior fellow at the Centre for Britain and Europe, touched on the importance of innovation. Surrey has shown how it can serve as a hub for several industries such as the gaming industry and higher education. The pandemic has impacted certain anchor institutions more than others, and this impact is something that will be particularly felt in the high street. Christian touched on the report’s recommendations to integrate the role of the community in the high street in addition to its role as a centre for commerce.

Vijay Luthra, Surrey Ambassador for Governance and Policy at the Institute for Directors, emphasised that the post-pandemic shift in the economy, such as the adoption of hybrid working, is already affecting the county’s community. From a business perspective, there is a struggle to recruit people with the right skills. In addition, with automation now taking over in both the front and back office, there’s a need to equip those entering higher and further education with the right skills and help those currently in the workforce adapt to meet the future demand for skills. Vijay also touched on the report’s recommendation for policies that address sustainability. The county will need to work hard to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy to preserve one of Surrey’s critical assets: its beauty spots and green spaces.

After some initial remarks, the panel engaged in a discussion and was guided by questions from the audience. There was a general agreement that the Government’s levelling-up agenda will make Surrey’s response to these issues more challenging as other regions will likely be prioritised. This stresses the importance of anchor-intuitions to lead a community-based response in Surrey.

Another issue that was expanded was on how to pool together leaders and drivers of innovation and connect them with young people. The county stands out in the quality of its higher and further education, particularly linking young talent with employers. However, given that the future demand for skills will require a continuous learning environment, education providers and leading businesses need to work even more closely together. The panel also stressed the importance of linking different groups within the community, particularly those who’ve already retired.

...there is clearly a will to upskill Surrey and provide sustainable and community-based growth!

Finally, there was a discussion around the cost of living and some of the issues in the volunteering sector. The cost of housing was identified as a clear deterrent to retaining young talent, but this is an area where anchor institutions can work together to provide innovative solutions such as subsidised accommodation around higher education campuses. In addition to the lack of resources, charities and organisations have highlighted the need to stimulate life-long volunteering. Whilst both the report and the discussion touched on the key issues Surrey needs to carefully consider, it’s now time to implement the policies that will address these challenges. This will involve a lot of work and coordination between many actors, but if there’s one thing this event has shown, there is clearly a will to upskill Surrey and provide sustainable and community-based growth!

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