Building for the future

The Borough Leader with Cllr Peter Chowney
The Borough Leader with Cllr Peter Chowney

Earlier this week, I attended a ‘topping out ceremony’ for a new factory unit on Castleham Estate. This unit has been built by Hastings Council and let to BD Foods, who already occupy three other units on Castleham - with this expansion of their business, they’ve created 50 new jobs. Like many local employers, they’re optimistic about Hastings, and want to grow their business here.

So it was disappointing to see a report from claiming that Hastings was the ‘worst place to earn a living’. It wasn’t clear how this conclusion had been reached, although it seemed to use very short-time analyses of the number of jobs and unemployment rates. Unemployment in Hastings has in fact been falling consistently for the last seven years. However, it remains higher than the regional average, so more jobs are needed.

Looking simply at job growth in Hastings is misleading too. Many people who live in Hastings don’t work in Hastings. And not all jobs in Hastings are occupied by people who live in Hastings. The new North Bexhill development, while not in Hastings, will provide 2,000 jobs available primarily to Hastings residents, as that’s the nearest large population centre.

The kind of jobs in Hastings is also different from what some might expect. Around 36% of Hastings jobs are ‘professionals, directors, managers and senior officials’ (significantly above the national average of 30%), whereas only 12% are ‘caring and leisure’. Nevertheless, there are still clearly a lot of jobs in town that are low-paid, seasonal and part-time. The stubbornly high levels of deprivation in our social housing estates show that most of the people living there certainly aren’t occupying professional and managerial jobs.

Although it’s hard to be certain from the data available, it seems that jobs in Hastings tend to be low-paid and seasonal, with little or no chance of promotion, or high-end professional jobs that you need degree-level qualifications and substantial experience to aspire to. But the proportion of technical and skilled jobs in Hastings is significantly below the national average. So what seems to be lacking is the kind of employment that offers a career progression, from school qualifications, or graduate entry, through to well-paid, high-level professional employment.

This is not entirely true, of course. Some of our specialist employers in the local high tech cluster have offered apprenticeships to young people who have gone on to progress through the company, or move on to similar local employers. Schemes such as the ‘Own Grown’ initiative, run by Hastings Council, Sussex Coast College Hastings, and other partners, helped to get local children into local careers.

But the general expectation among young people, that you need to leave Hastings to ‘get on’, was highlighted to me by the MD of one of our largest local manufacturers. He said that in the school talks he did, almost all children he spoke to about their career aspirations expected to leave Hastings after they left school.

So we’re left with a difficult and potentially unpalatable prospect: that wealth in Hastings is created by new professionals moving into town, to occupy jobs that aren’t accessible to young people from our own schools and colleges. While that’s not universally true, it does seem to be an assumption that could be driving talented young people away from our town. We need to do all we can to ensure that future job growth helps to change that.