Chapter 12: The Economy (Richard Scase)

Chapter 12: The Economy (Richard Scase)

SDG Target 4.4:  “By 2030, substantially increase the number of youths and adults who have relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship”

Introduction

This section reviews the Canterbury economy and then proceeds to assess likely trends within the different sectors that make up this local economy. It is pessimistic in its forecasts with good reason. All the certainties that have underwritten the city’s vibrancy and growth in the past are being undermined by global, national and local economic, social and technological forces. Even so, there are steps that can be taken to successfully address many of these if there is sufficient stakeholder commitment, enthusiasm and imagination.

The shift to a more sustainable local economy would require less reliance upon public sector, higher education and national retail employment and more upon locally created small and medium size enterprises. These need to be in the professional, technical, and creative economic sectors. In the pursuit of this objective the Council should build upon its “startmybiz” and “growmybiz” initiatives.

To provide quantitative measures of trends, a Small Business Monitor should be established. This would collect data on an annual basis and thereby provide detailed evidence for the setting-up of more focussed added value policies. This initiative could be done through a partnership between the Council, one of the City’s Business School and Canterbury BID (Business Improvement District).

More of the talent produced by the local universities needs to be retained in the District. The woeful lack of awareness of graduates of available employment and entrepreneurial opportunities needs to be addressed by developing closer partnership arrangements between local businesses and the institutions of higher education. Mentoring and internships could be strengthened.

The present situation

The Canterbury District economy consists of four major employment components; (1) Education accounts for about 20% with 12,000 employees; (2) Retail and distribution services employing 19% representing 11,500 staff; (3) Health and welfare services 16%; (4) Hospitality, tourism and leisure 10%; and (5) Professional and technical services 6%. Average weekly earnings for both men and women in full-time and part-time jobs are lower in Canterbury than is general in Kent and the South-East.

In the Canterbury District, 90% of companies are ‘micro’ in that they employ less than 9 staff members and a further 9% employ less than 49. Self-Employed men and women account for 20% of total employment.

Sixty percent of employees in the District are engaged in managerial, professional and technical jobs compared to 45 per cent in Kent and the national average. The percentage of total Canterbury employment represented by these occupations increased from 44% in 2013 to 61% in 2016.

Less than 12% are engaged in manufacturing. Total employment in the District increased by 1% from 2010 to 2015. Between these dates employment in the hospitality and real estate sectors increased by one-third while in public administration and financial services it declined by a similar percentage. Gross weekly pay has increased for men and women in both full-time and part-time jobs since 2010, and women continue to earn less than men

The present population of the Canterbury District is 160,000 with 18% over the age of 65. There is a projected increase of older men and women of 12% by 2026. A similar percentage increase will be for children under the age of 16. Thus, there will be a sharp increase in the dependency ratio in the short term with implications for schooling and other younger peoples’ needs.

The Canterbury economy is ‘polarized’. On the one hand there are two major education providers (Kent and Canterbury Christ Church universities) together with other public sector employers, and on the other hand, a broad range of privately and locally-owned businesses in the retail and hospitality sectors. There is a low representation of professional and creative services as well as manufacturing occupations.

The two major universities, as well as the University of the Creative Arts, produce local qualified talent in disciplines ranging from law, accountancy and business studies to architecture, design, personal health and welfare. But this has little outcome in terms of entrepreneurial start-up and self-employment in the professional services sector. The Canterbury hinterland and the City’s proximity to London as a global hub is well-suited to offer excellent opportunities for such businesses.

The major contribution of the universities to the local economy, in terms of value-added outputs, is Canterbury Christ Church with its delivery of nursing, social welfare and teaching graduates.

But there are other ways the Canterbury economy is dependent upon its student population. The retail and hospitality sectors are heavily reliant on students, recruited as temporary, part-time workers mainly hired on zero hours contracts. These sectors set the norm for local employment thus affecting the wages and employment of local permanent residents, with low earnings being the norm for under-qualified women who are often in need of part-time jobs.

A zero hours contract culture now pervades the retail sector to a far greater extent than in the past (although such a pattern is difficult to quantify in the absence of reliable data). To be hired on a four-hour basis, often with short-term notice, creates uncertainties for personal and family life. Small employers require their staff to be ‘flexible’ and ‘on call’. Without doubt, such employment opportunities have become crucial for the sustainability of the retail and hospitality sectors.

Clouds on the horizon

The Canterbury economy is facing a number of unprecedented challenges. These are now considered by reference to the five major employment sectors as listed above.

Education

There are already indications that the attraction of young people to full-time, residential higher education is in decline. They are beginning to realise the traditional monopoly over knowledge held by universities is coming to an end. This is particularly in the areas of the liberal arts and the non-laboratory disciplines.

Knowledge can now be gained online and accessed anywhere in the world. It seems to be likely universities will need to adapt their function. It will be to guide and to enthuse students through the analysis of data and information acquired online. This will mean the offer of intensive periods of short-term spells of university attendance, for example, over weekends rather than full-time residential study.

Employers are also re-assessing their graduate recruitment needs meaning that they are less likely to require job applicants to have degrees as the initial criteria for the selection of younger staff.

If this was to occur on a sufficient large-scale there could be major repercussions for the Canterbury economy. The buy-to-let property market would go into decline, destroying the businesses of landlords, the incomes of many pensioners and the livelihoods of many others. For example, the self-employed and that significant sector of the local economy that is engaged in the construction, maintenance and repair of buy-to-let properties catering mostly for students.

The viability of many businesses in the hospitality and leisure sectors would also be threatened by a sharp fall in student numbers as these are presently vital as consumers as well as part-time employees.

Retail

With the exception of London and some regional hotspots, shopping high streets in towns and cities across the country are, in general, in decline. With the growing popularity of online shopping it is difficult to envisage that this will be reversed. Although Canterbury is a shopping destination with the magnetic pull of the Cathedral as a tourist destination, it is unlikely it will be exempt from this national trend.

In future to attract shoppers, city centres will need to offer an appealing destination with graffiti and litter-free streets, friendly welcoming environments exuding “vibrancy and liveability” and, most importantly, ease of access.  Canterbury with its present-day traffic congestion, noise, and pollution could lose its shopper appeal to on-line traders and to other regional centres such as Bluewater and Stratford Westfield. ‘Traffic congestion’ was the major reason respondents mentioned in our survey as being ‘not so good about living in Canterbury’

Great strides have been made by Canterbury BID (Business Improvement District), to improve the shopper experience. Even so, footfall could still decline, and this will change the character of the shopping core. National retailers may shun the City with the central shopping district reverting more to leisure, recreation and residential use. Already there is a shift in this direction which in many ways represents a return to the past. Indeed, Civic Voice are campaigning under the slogan “Bring back the High Street” by giving communities greater “ownership” of the local high street situation. However, presently the implications for local employment opportunities may be negative.

Health and welfare

The long-term viability of this sector is highly contingent upon national and local political decision- making. Pertinent issues are the future status of the Kent and Canterbury hospital and a proposed medical school. These developments, should they materialise, will attract medical, professional and administrative staff to the area.

The ageing of the population will demand increasing health and welfare provision and hence the need to recruit more staff working in this sector. Present shortages could become more acute after Brexit. This can only be mitigated in two ways:- (i) by recruiting more overseas non-EU staff or, (ii) as in many other countries, with the widespread adoption of self-monitoring health technologies. Such examples include smart clothing, behind-the-ear chips and blue tooth communication technologies. Artificial Intelligence (AI) apps are already offering solutions. Even so, with future local demographic trends, health and welfare provision will be a major sector of employment growth in the future. Many of these jobs will be part-time with low earnings.

Hospitality, tourism and leisure

Canterbury will continue to be a major tourist destination, fuelled by the appeal of the cathedral and its role as a national heritage city. At present the District receives over 7 million tourist visits per annum which provides a spend of over £450 million p.a. This sector offers scope for further visitor growth as long as existing barriers to its potential are overcome. Undoubtedly the shortage of quality accommodation for over-night visitors deters many overseas as well as UK visitors. Other than the Cathedral, there remains a deficit of visitor attractions, particularly for higher-spending younger families. Alongside the Canterbury Festival, the Medieval Pageant and the Gay Pride Parade, and the International Food and Drink Festival, more such crowd-pulling events and spectaculars need to be leveraged.

The Canterbury ‘brand’ may be appealing but if there is limited awareness of what the City has to offer, other than the Cathedral, tourists will not arrive. How many of the millions of visitors to London are aware Canterbury is but 54 minutes way? A coherent strategic marketing plan needs to be put in place. With the displacement of jobs in the retail sector, the hospitality and leisure services will be more significant for future employment growth.

Professional and technical services

These services are probably under-developed in Canterbury bearing in mind the availability of local graduate talent that is available to be recruited and trained. The national reputation of many of the City’s professional businesses and the easy access to London as a major global hub should be offering greater employment opportunities and career prospects. However, this economic sector faces a number of challenges. There is a shortage of available and suitable office accommodation. Linked to this is the problem of staff travel and traffic congestion. Couples and spouses are often reluctant to move to the City and its hinterland because of a lack of suitable job and career prospects for partners. Closer working relations could be established with relevant university departments, offering a seamless transfer of graduates to local knowledge-based businesses.

The poor provision of high-quality broadband and WIFI services is an inhibitor to recruiting such businesses to the City, and also making it difficult for them to grow and operate on a global scale. In view of its lower housing and business costs, as well as the quality of life that it offers, Canterbury should be attracting digital firms from London.

Conclusions

The Canterbury economy is highly dependent upon the continuing success of its two major universities to recruit students. This underwrites most other aspects of the local economy. The hospitality sector relies heavily on students both as consumers and as part-time staff. The student buy-to-let market sustains a large sector consisting of the self-employed and small businesses in construction, maintenance and repair.

The City’s shopping centre is likely to change in character because of the competitive challenge of online trading.  National retailers are likely to play a less significant role in its future evolution, and it is likely that the High Street will have to morph into something more than just a shopping destination.

Local professional service businesses require high speed broadband to grow and trade in global markets. This will be essential for future entrepreneurial growth in the City.

All sectors of the Canterbury economy face uncertainties and challenging times ahead. Its economic growth is likely to be slower than in the past, notwithstanding substantial local population growth.

Recommendations

  1. That planning permission should only be given for student housing developments on the condition that, should there be a fall-off in student demand, these properties can be suitably converted for young couples and families.
  2. An entrepreneurial hub be created in the centre of the City to attract would be start-ups. This to focus on attracting local talent as well as digital businesses from London. To support this, Startmybiz.com and www.Growmybiz.com  should be more actively promoted by the Council’s Property and Regeneration team.
  3. By 2020 ultra-high-speed broadband for businesses and free Wi-Fi for citizens and visitors be rolled out across the City
  4. A Council strategy should be developed to attract more professional, creative, and digital businesses to the area to exploit the opportunities the City has to offer as a hub, fully integrated into global supply chains. The data on trends should be collected and presented annually in the public domain.
  5. Promotion of the City as a heritage destination by marketing its short journey times from London as well as increasing the range of festivals, visitor attractions such as museums and crowd-pulling events.
  6. That Canterbury BID, in its renewed five-year phase, continues with its strategies for improving the City as a shopping and visitor destination with its litter free campaigns, Canterbury in Bloom, Xmas lights, etc. It should also do more to encourage City traders, both large and small, to give more attention to customer-focused staff training. BID should also collaborate with local businesses to develop more precise quantitative indicators of consumer spend in terms of demographic profiles and socio-economic status. Such measures to be used by traders for improving the consumer offer as well as to leverage improved pay-back for their marketing strategies.
  7. As part of improving the shopping experience, resources be devoted to improving the general environment of St George’s Place and to improve the footfall links between here and Burgate. Arcades and covered areas, including malls and canopies, are proving attractive elsewhere, as are well maintained green spaces.
  8. The Council to adopt imaginative means to improve footfall accessibility to the city centre, plus initiatives that reduce traffic congestion and air pollution.
  9. More attention be devoted to marketing Canterbury as a heritage site and shopping destination to attract more visitors from London.
  10. Closer links between the universities be encouraged through internships to encourage local graduates to remain in the city to pursue professional, creative and entrepreneurial careers

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