MAJOR plans are being drawn up to give Portsmouth a shot in the arm in a bid to boost the economy and bring in an extra 7,000 jobs.
Experts looking decades into Portsmouth’s future to 2036 have forecast a projected rise in unemployment and low economic growth.
Too often written off as a ‘an old and congested industrial/naval town, without room to grow’ and ‘whose best days are behind it’, experts say the city has great potential but needs ‘bold' steps to prevail.
Economists have insisted low projections can be averted if the city’s assets are put to work - with the creation of an innovation quarter, improved transport links, and a better-educated workforce.
Ambitions to create the ‘most business-friendly city’ in Britain would help end the problem of around one in four of working-age adults being classed as inactive - including carers, early retirees, unwell people and students.
Key to securing the future, a report found, is improving the city’s ‘brand’, using its waterfront more, ensuring developments at Tipner come off, and making the most of its engineering and manufacturing industries.
Portsmouth City Council is drawing up its economic development and regeneration strategy, having commissioned Oxford Economics to draw up a £10,450 report - and consulted businesses and individuals.
Leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson said: ‘The strategy is an important part of our plan for change in the city. It's all about exploiting Portsmouth's unique strengths and assets to boost economic prosperity.
‘Economic growth isn't an end in itself. It's a way of ensuring that all of our residents have the opportunity for a decent quality of life for themselves and for their children and their children’s children.’
Analysts looking to 2036 are expecting population to swell to 229,000 in the city, with 141,000 of those at working age. Currently around 7.5 per cent of the working population have no qualifications.
And the analysis warns of ‘disturbingly’ low economic growth in Portsmouth, with just a 0.5 per cent per year hike between 2010-2017, below average for the Solent and below the British average of 1.9 per cent.
Employment has grown just 0.5 per cent a year in the same period, with economists revealing a 0.1 per cent a year growth up to 2036.
But what does this all mean? In terms of cold hard cash, currently anyone earning £500 a week would get £900 a week by 2036 if no action is taken to boost the economy. But if action is taken, that could grow to £1,000 a week.
And if that’s the aim, how can the city get there? Put simply: better education for people living here, better homes to attract highly-qualified people from other areas, strengthen links between the marine and maritime industry working together, and demand better transport links.
An innovation quarter would, it is suggested by analysts, cluster similar businesses together as in Shoreditch in London, helping create a ‘Shoreditch-on-Sea'.
The draft strategy drawn up by the council is built on 10 ‘bold’ recommendations from Oxford Economics:
:: Improve the ‘Great Waterfront City’ branding.
:: Enhance the seafront, including reclaiming land at Tipner and The Hard.
:: Put wildlife habitats to use as ‘unique assets’ – with the report suggesting migratory birds’ habitats could be used a visitor attraction.
:: Creating a marine and maritime engineering innovation quarter, clustering firms together as ‘Shoreditch-on-Sea’.
:: Set up a marine and maritime clean-growth innovation quarter, with firms working on environmental issues put together.
:: Bolster the visitor economy and push Southsea into the ‘city-break market’.
:: Nurture networks of companies across the Solent.
:: Make a business case for better road and rail links.
:: Focus on giving skills to people, not just qualifications.
:: Make ‘neighbourhoods in Portsmouth where people really want to live’.
In its report, Oxford Economics said the city can fight its corner and contribute to the nation, and added: ‘That means that Portsmouth should be more like Portsmouth, by which we mean a densely-packed city with a rare combination of high value-added engineering skills, heritage and tourism, in a unique marine and maritime setting including both commercial and environmental assets to cherish and enhance.’
Mark Baulch, head of policy and representation at Hampshire Chamber of Commerce welcomed the draft strategy.
Mr Baulch said: ‘Our members will agree with many of the statements in this document and we look forward to working with the council on the challenges identified in it, especially around transport.
‘Our annual business survey has highlighted the fact that firms in the city have a concern about a lack of vision, from a business point of view, so this is a positive step forward.’
Along with higher wages and an extra 7,000 jobs, the council is targeting: an extra 7,000 city people in work by 2036; productivity hitting £60,000 per person, up from £45,000 in 2017; just five per cent of people with no qualifications; and 40 per cent of people educated to NVQ Level 4, compared to 35 per cent currently.
Portsmouth North MP Penny Mordaunt said: ‘Over the last decade Portsmouth has changed massively for the better, but there is still so much we can do to bring further prosperity and improve quality of life.
‘As well a new business ideas we must also progress the regeneration of parts of the city to provide a really great place to live and community and leisure facilities, and we must ensure we are listening to business.
‘Our small business in particular could do so much more with a bit more support, that is what I am asking the (Solent) LEP to focus on.’
Portsmouth South MP Stephen Morgan said: 'There is so much more we need to do in partnership, and with the right leadership, to create a city which works for everyone. Simply, the council must do better at keeping the Portsmouth pound here in Portsmouth.
‘Average earnings remain too low, we have a housing crisis stopping local families from getting a roof over their heads, our city’s high streets are on the brink, a shocking third of children are living in poverty, and our schools and colleges budgets are being cut and cut by central government.
‘The city desperately needs investment in infrastructure to ensure Portsmouth is competitive for the future and all communities have the opportunity to flourish. As MP, I will keep lobbying Government for just that.’