The Great Debate – “What does the future hold for business in Brighton?”

A Useful Event

This was a well-publicised Great Debate hosted by the University of Brighton, supported by the Brighton & Hove Chamber of Commerce and sponsored by three local businesses. Two hundred and fifty tickets were available and all had been booked. I noticed a few empty seats but this is a hazard for event organisers with limited seating but free ticketing.
For more details including the Great Debate panel of speakers see: https://www.brighton.ac.uk/greatdebate.

That lovely illustration is here.

Time flies

After a short video of Brighton past and present the Debate Chairperson set the scene for us to talk about the future of Brighton. The frontbench Panel consisted of the Vice-chancellor of the University of Brighton and three local business leaders covering local infrastructure & retail, digital services and IT services.

The debating chamber warmed up quickly in terms of temperature but heating up the arguments was taking longer. Maybe everyone was being rather polite? As the clock ticked on some interesting tensions emerged (see below). Just as I felt we might actually start a more direct discussion about leadership and responsibility – time up – it was over.

I checked my programme and sure enough the Great Debate had been afforded just 90 minutes. The other 90 minutes was turned over to informal discussions and networking supported by free drinks and fish-n-chips. I have seen this emerge when events are designed. The sponsors want their money’s worth and that means time in the programme for their reps to get amongst the attendees to network.

Observations

Key tensions I observed in the debate included:

  • Growing local talent at all levels of business v importing from London and wider.
  • Many of the diverse groups and strands of activity that we want to keep in Brighton are low income and are being priced out of city accommodation.
  • Growth = more people = more space v finite area between the sea and the Downs.
  • Celebrating and supporting local businesses v missing opportunities to work with great businesses outside Brighton.
  • The need to transition from a ‘town’ mentality to a ‘city’ mentality but not everyone wants this or sees the need to.
  • Transport: growth means being much better at getting people (businesses and their customers and their suppliers) in and out of the city much more quickly and efficiently.
  • The people that want to work in Brighton may not have the same drive and work ethic as those in other cities such as London or Croydon.
  • The digital and IT businesses will compete with tourism businesses for space – how to make these two vital sectors more complementary?
  • Focus on Brighton & Hove v wider East and West Sussex.

In summary

Overall I thought it was a pleasant event and worth going. But I do not understand where the leadership is coming from to pull together the diverse strands of interest, each worthy in its way, into a balanced and cohesive portfolio of policies and programmes to deliver a better Brighton over the next 5 years.

Is there a decision-making framework that can be used to bind these independent and culturally diverse interests together?
Is there a mechanism to generate the shared vision and strategy?

I suggest a vision and strategy that the various parties can adopt as the ‘campfire’ and draw up their own wagons around it so that all are facing a core purpose albeit from different directions?

Vision – the next great debate?

I think the Vision piece is easy (if everyone can resist the temptation to have a go separately).

Simply I think:

“We all want Brighton to be the place that people prefer to:

  • Live, work, study and play
  • Get a great education (primary, secondary, tertiary)
  • Have opportunities to research, experiment and innovate across a broad spectrum of technology, arts, sciences and engineering
  • Launch and run creative businesses that compete well on the international stage
  • Build their professional skills and have a rewarding career without having to leave the area
  • Co-exist safely, respectfully and fairly.”

I could certainly outline a public/ private portfolio of works from those requirements…

But who has the vision to lead?

And how will the decisions be made?

I’m curious.

Nigel Stock – 5/7/2017

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One Response to The Great Debate – “What does the future hold for business in Brighton?”

  1. Robin Brownsell 06/07/2017 at 11:52 am #

    interesting views and it looks like Coast 2 Capital CEO Jonathan Sharrock has already replied on LinkedIn :

    Coast to Capital will be redoing our Strategic Economic plan over coming months so lots of scope for collaboration on the main issues facing Brighton.

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