Charting Surrey’s rescue, recovery and growth in the age of Covid-19 and Brexit

The project represents an in-depth three-month analysis of the impact of Covid-19 and Brexit on Surrey’s clusters, and overall economy.

Start date

June 2020

End date

September 2021


Professor Amelia Hadfield's IAA project,‘Charting Surrey’s Rescue, Recovery and Growth in the Age of Covid-19 and Brexit’ is the first of its kind to bring together Surrey County Council, the newly created Future Economy Surrey Commission, the Department of Politics at Surrey, and the Centre for Britain and Europe (within Politics), as well as key links with Royal Holloway.

The project was co-funded between the ESRC IAA and Surrey County Council.

Pre-COVID-19 / Brexit analysis suggested Surrey’s prosperous composition as steady but unevenly spread and impermanent. A detailed analysis was required to chart both Surrey’s post-COVID-19 response, and ongoing Brexit preparations, in terms of its general sectors, as well as its specialist areas. 

These 'cluster' areas include Knowledge and Research, Aviation, Business and Employment, and Health Sciences, and they contribute to Surrey’s high-value economy and global leader potential.

The project represents an in-depth three-month analysis of the impact of Covid-19 and Brexit on Surrey’s clusters, and overall economy. The findings of this research were presented as part of the ESRC Festival of Social Science, co-presented by Rt Hon Philip Hammond. You can watch the recording of this event and download the final report, further down on this page.

Project overview (PDF)



Additional team members 

  • Christian Turner
  • Meghan Isherwood
  • Victoria Denton
  • James Penny
  • Marta Alvaro-Taus


The project findings were presented to the Commission, in November 2020, through a widely attended ESRC Festival of Social Science online event, and the final report has made recommendations to the Surrey Growth Board, Surrey County Council itself, and national government.

Read the report (PDF) Read the executive summary (PDF) Watch the presentation

Professor Hadfield and Dr Tamsin Woodward-Smith collaborated on a blog for UPEN on collaborative civil engagement. You can read this blog here.


The report made four main recommendations for Surrey's recovery which emerged as common areas for concern, from all stakeholders involved: 

1. Problem: Improve key digital infrastructures in the county: Addressing the deepening economic disparity between East and West Surrey’s economies and sectoral performance to avoid widening inequalities and to increase the County’s overall GVA per capita growth rates.

Recommendation: Transport and communications infrastructures need to be improved dramatically to unlock cluster potential. While there are excellent transport links for London commuters, greater attention needs to be paid to connecting (and de-congesting) east and west Surrey. Failure to address infrastructure pressures, particularly intra-county connections, need particular attention.

2. Problem: Governance: Public authorities at all levels need to work more effectively with a host of key stakeholders, including LEPs, to design “local-growth, local-jobs” programmes, tailored to the different local economic realities, but promoting the same key message that “Surrey’s in Business”. Strategic task forces focusing on growth, skills, and sustainability could arguably support and direct county-wide recovery and growth. 

Recommendation: Innovate the High Street: With the requirements of high streets shifting radically in a post-Covid age, a more imaginative approach is needed to manage the space that would benefit shifts in business, healthcare, the knowledge economy and aviation. Offering multi-purpose, collaborative business spaces, hubs for inclusive career support, NHS related areas, as well as much-needed skills/ training areas, all supported by high-quality communications infrastructure would help transform unused or surplus retail/office space.

3. Problem: Surrey Specialisms: Building the County’s claim to be England’s Silicon Valley by consolidating existing high-tech hubs, connected by ‘business corridors’, while kick-starting rescue packages for those aviation-related industries whose current challenges will negatively affect Surrey’s overall GVA.

Recommendation: Embracing the modern workplace: Covid has brought about both threats and opportunities to contemporary working patterns, including new forms of flexibility and challenges to traditional modes (e.g. commuting in/out of the county). Both need to be seriously considered when mapping Surrey’s future economic growth.

4. Problem: Healthy and Inclusive Surrey: Launching packages to promote an uplift in Surrey’s demography; retaining high-skilled students, attracting highly-qualified younger workers and their families by providing enhanced and sustainable infrastructure, accessible housing and an attractive lifestyle.

Recommendation: Demographic challenges: Surrey faces a serious challenge in attracting and retaining highly-skilled young people for both the knowledge economy and business. Failure to make Surrey attractive, both commercially and residentially, risks ongoing shrinkage of growth, both in terms of demography and the overall economy.

The project has developed deep and sustained partnerships between the University of Surrey and a wide range of local and regional cross-sectoral stakeholders, including Surrey County Council, who commissioned the work as part of the objectives of its newly formed Surrey Future Economy Commission.

Surrey County Council have continued to work closely with the University of Surrey, providing a mutually beneficial exchange between academia and local government that we hope will prove pivotal in the recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. This has included working closely together on a new project, ‘Growing Surrey’, which seeks to build an economic growth strategy that will inform work being carried out by the Economic Development team at Surrey County Council and the Surrey Growth Board. This has been made possible due to the University being awarded funding from the Strategic Priority Fund to continue the project in enacting the policy recommendations from the report (see below) and research next areas of critical significance, such as sustainability. The team behind the report includes cross-departmental undergraduate, postgraduate and pre-doctoral students, enhancing employability and training them for future research impact.

Further to this, a close relationship has been built with the Surrey Employment and Skills Board. This has seen the Surrey Employment and Skills Board join as a junior partner in the ‘Growing Surrey’ project, providing expertise in the short-term employment contraction arising from the Covid-19 pandemic and developing a longer-term skill strategy for the county. We have built a strong and on-going relationship with Enterprise M3 and Coast to Capital; local enterprise partnerships that cover Surrey.  Both LEPs “endorsed” the findings from the report and in turn committed to strengthen cooperation across the stakeholders in Surrey and adopt the growth governance of the whole of Surrey that we recommended.

The report has made significant impact at both regional and national level. It has been extensively circulated among key business interests in the county including businesses, the Institute for Directors and Chambers of Commerce. We have given parliamentary evidence to the Health and Social Care Committee and Science and Technology Committee’s Inquiry into Coronavirus and the lesson learned, as well as the Treasury Committee’s Inquiry into the Economic Impact of Coronavirus.

Overall, Charting Surrey’s rescue, recovery and growth in the age of Covid-19 and Brexit has provided a strong foundation in bridging the gap between academia and local governance at a time of critical importance. It has provided extensive research, including previously untapped qualitative and quantitative data, in a centralised format that is anticipated to reverberate across the county for years to come. It has led to a new project, Growing Surrey, which seeks to address the key issues facing the county in the next decade in four distinct fields: 1) inward investment 2) employment and skills 3) growing the High Street 4) sustainability. As the nation begins to recover economically from the severity of the Covid-19 pandemic, the University of Surrey has been at the forefront of the revival and future growth of the county.

In November 2020 Cllr Tim Oliver, Leader of Surrey County Council noted three immediate activities happening on a practical level as a direct result of this project's report:

1. Development of the 'Surrey Growth Board' which will help co-ordinate and lead activity both locally and nationally, and to lobby national Government.

2. Establishment of local community networks which will be place based, including representations from Health, Local Govt, Business, Police, amongst others. This will be an opportunity to get all the key influencers together in their locality, to look at what can be done on a combined basis.

3. Coordination with the 'doughnut' counties; Hertfordshire, Essex, Kent and Surrey. Those counties that sit around London, with similar issues and opportunities.

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