Observer column: 06 September 2019
Back in 1997, the newly-elected Labour government made Hastings and Bexhill a focus for regeneration and growth. In 2001, a Task Force was set up involving government, national agencies, the MPs, the three local authorities and others, drawing up a ten-year programme for the regeneration of Hastings and Bexhill. The initial programme was intended to last ten years, and involved more than a quarter of a billion pounds of public investment into Hastings and Bexhill.
When the coalition government was elected in 2010 however, all this planned local investment ceased. Planned regeneration programmes were replaced with competitive funding schemes and short-term, one off initiatives, from the government and from the EU. Hastings Council and other local groups have been very successful at bidding into these competitive grant funds but while this funding has been significant, it's nowhere near the levels of funding the town was receiving pre-2010.
This funded regeneration programme up to 2010 could have led to much greater long-term improvements if the funding had continued. However, it didn't, and we still have significant problems. Hastings still has some of the most deprived communities in the country, where levels of unemployment, child poverty, poor health and low skills levels have persisted, despite regeneration initiatives.
What's needed is a continuation of pre-2010 funding levels, through a long-term programme of planned economic interventions and public investment. In the absence of that, Hastings Council will continue to apply for external funding through competitive grants as and when that's available. But we'll also be moving towards a more 'project based' way of working, planning a series of our own physical regeneration projects that can be 'self-funded', for example through the sale of housing, as well as seeking grant funding towards this.
We'll also be thinking about regeneration in a different way. Simply making space available for 'big business' can just divert the money away from local people, with workers brought in from elsewhere to get around local skills shortages. Some of the most successful regeneration initiatives carried out by the council and others over the last twenty years have been the business start-up units and spaces for small, local businesses, at the Innovation Centre, Castleham Industrial Estate and Rock House, for example. Hastings Council is building a new start-up facility soon, at Sidney Little Road, with a business skills training centre. This approach to growing local small and medium businesses, both established specialist ones and new ones, linked to local training initiatives, may well be the way of the future. And a better way to help local people out of poverty and worklessness. We'll also be looking at the council's procurement policy to make it more locally-focused, and encouraging other public agencies to do the same, using our combined purchasing power to help grow the local economy.
This approach fits with our commitment to tackle climate change too. Procuring more goods and services locally, as well as generating local jobs to avoid long commuting journeys, helps to reduce carbon emissions.
To do this effectively, we will need changes to central government policy, and re-introduction of planned, long-term regeneration funding. But in the meantime, we'll be working with others to do what we can to shape a sustainable economy that helps tackle deprivation, rather than selling Hastings to corporate multinationals by pretending these problems don't exist.
Council Leader's column