I am not offered a column in the local press so each week I publish my own, Kev’s column, on line.
This week I look at some of the opportunities to tackle the challenges for seaside towns identified by the recent Centre for Social Justice Report that were highlighted in the Herald Express on Thursday 8th August 2013:
The recent report from the Centre for Social Justice on Seaside Towns, painted a pretty depressing picture of the situation faced by towns with similar heritage/economies to the bay.
It is easy to list the problems including welfare dependency, teenage pregnancy and higher rates of unemployment, yet the hard part is putting in place plans to deal with them, particularly against the backdrop of the government dealing with a large deficit inherited from its predecessor.
The similarity of problems presents an opportunity for seaside towns to work together. The Core Cities Group, representing the largest conurbations, successfully pushes for policies and projects that would benefit them all. You only need look at the spread of the City Deal concept and the amount being spent on HS2 to see the impact of this.
I recently discussed with John Penrose, MP for Weston Super Mare, work he is doing to bring a Coastal Communities group together, modelled on the Core Cities group. This is not about creating another talking shop for politicians, but bringing together key industries and public sector bodies that can speak with one voice on relevant issues and help push them up the political agenda.
The City Deal process involving Torbay teaming up with Plymouth and Exeter to promote the development of our economy is a crucial opportunity. Development of higher skilled jobs in the aviation and maritime industries, as well as a tourist package, across the three areas is more likely to bring success than just going it alone. The Kingskerswell Bypass will bring the challenge of making it easier to reach competing shopping centres, but the opportunity of quicker journeys to business parks near Exeter and crucially it’s Airport.
Even when jobs are created some do not access them for a range of reasons. This is more than just a lack of work being available, but entrenched issues around dependency or a genuinely dysfunctional family background. Reforming benefits to ensure being in work always pays is part of the solution, but also joining up work across different agencies to deal with entrenched problems such as drug dependency.
It is easy to be negative and as Geoff Jones rightly pointed out (HE, 8th August) Cllr Mark Pountney’s recent letter was about the most defeatist statement ever about the bay’s prospects. Likewise if the Secretary of Torbay Labour Party spent as much time thinking up positive policies as he does attacking Torbay Liberal Democrats he might have something to offer.
The very purpose of politics is to generate policies and ideas on the issues of the day, not just moan and childishly attack your opponents. The problems are real, ideas how to solve them need to be as well.