Why Coastal Action?
Why Coastal Action?
For many readers, the first question on encountering our website will be why set up a social enterprise specifically focusing on coastal areas in England alone? In this introductory piece, we set out our seven reasons for doing so, effectively marking out our USP. Our case is broad and diverse, straddling economics, politics and an enduring lack of policy focus despite significant long-term investment. We hope to help develop the evidence base and produce positive change.
Our seven reasons include coastal towns: political importance, providing a different angle of electoral behaviour and public opinion within Britain, a non London/ city centric focus, economic importance, lack of policy critiques despite large funding, a current lack of focus on current problems and finally, understanding inequality better.
1. Political Importance:
This describes the electoral impact coastal constituencies can have on overall UK wide political outcomes, recognising that many of these areas are marginal constituencies, or “swing seats”. These are terms used to describe those parliamentary seats that tend to have small majorities, change hands often and need to be won by opposition parties if there is ever to be a change in government. Thus, the leaders of both main parties at the last General Election in 2015, David Cameron for the Conservatives, and Ed Miliband for Labour visited a number of costal swing seats in the south east, specifically Thanet, Brighton, Hove and Hastings&Rye, in an attempt to reinforce their support and secure electoral advantage in a volatile region. In fact, Cameron visited Hastings to make a key general election speech aimed directly at swing voters, and when asked by an ITV reporter during an interview about the importance of coastal towns like Hastings, was unambiguous about their importance. As he put it, “Hastings was the difference between a government of economic competence or economic chaos” (Wire: 2015). This referred to the fact that towns such as Hastings were the sites in which the election, thought to be a close-run thing until the announcement of the final exit poll on the BBC News at 10, would be won. Likewise, Ed Miliband visited Hastings to try out his PMQ’s for the people idea and, infamously, just a couple of days before the polls opened, to unveil the ill-fated Ed stone (Rafter: 2015). The concentration of so much time and effort on seaside swing seat clearly demonstrates the importance accorded by tactically sophisticated party machines to such areas.
The way these seats vote often determines the outcome of an election, with a tendency to mirror the final national outcome. Hastings has not voted for the losing side in any general election since the 1970s such that, put simply, the political party that wins here is the political party that goes on to form the government, and therefore political control on the national stage. This pattern also applies to referendums, where Hastings has also voted on the winning side in every referendum since the 1970s, embracing the EEC in 1975, backing Brexit in EU in 2016, and rejecting electoral reform in 2013. Moreover, this pattern has persisted for 40 years, and shows no signs of easing. In 2015, despite confident predictions of an easy win for Labour, Hastings & Rye saw Conservative incumbent Amber Rudd more than double her majority from under 2,000 in 2010 to around 5,000 votes (Rudd: 2015).
Finally, coastal areas have tended to display early signs of emerging future trends. By way of example, in the 2012 local elections and the 2013 country council elections across Kent, East Sussex and Surrey, UKIP gained a lot of ground against both Labour and the Conservatives. Labour lost most ground to UKIP in Kent, performing better in East Sussex gaining from the Tories, whilst the Conservatives lost ground to UKIP in all areas of the South East, especially in coastal areas like Thanet (Graham: 2015). Crucially, southern coastal gains for UKIP, coupled with the decline of the Liberal Democrats, were an early warning sign that coastal areas were displaying hardening attitudes towards immigration and the EU. Indeed, in seaside towns, where the population tends to be transient, and where poorer groups often do no vote, large numbers came out to vote to leave the EU, tipping the balance in favour of the exit campaign. Turnout in such places was higher than in the general election a month before, suggesting significant numbers of those who came out to vote weren’t frequent voters. In fact, this pattern was beginning to emerge during the 2014 local elections, where UKIP gained council seats in places like Thanet, anticipating the trend that would led to Brexit (Powling: 2016). These areas demonstrated hostility and changes in national character. Yet these voting patterns were ignored, creating the possibility of leaving the EU being wrongly downplayed, producing poor predictions and a shock for mainstream political parties and opinions. After Brexit, however, the mood has changed, with a recognition that marginalised, e.g. coastal voices, are politically important and need to be taken more seriously and listened to, especially when making voting behaviour predictions.
2. Providing a different angle to explore electoral behaviour and public opinion in Britain.
As mentioned above electoral behaviour changes in these Coastal towns can not only help project what the current mood is in British politics, but also help to display future trends and developments in British politics. The defeat for the Conservatives in Clacton, particularly in Jaywick, was predicted through using the stratification method, showing the rise of UKIP amongst Coastal towns, which would lead onto them voting for Brexit (Hanretty: 2014). However, the amount of research of these types of trends in sea side towns in England is limited, resulting in a limited impact on electoral behaviour analysts to predict developments in British politics, potentially undermining the confidence in the discipline.
If a search is undertaken on scholar search engines it is hard to find literature on coastal towns electoral behaviour and its impact on election outcomes. Given their importance on election outcomes, as sated above, this gap in our knowledge limits the ability to fully understand British politics. This gap that needs to be filled, and can be done so with a think tank committed to coastal regeneration, showing why one is needed.
Finally, electoral behaviour can become too focused upon national, regional and city trends, lumping many different people in too broad categories and generalisations (Shakespeare: 2013). This results in an inability to understand how certain communities’ may vote, as when isolated they may well vote in a different way to what the overall trends predict. This is important because in a FPTP system where seats, and not votes, matter most, meaning how individual communities clustered into strong identical groups vote can determine the overall outcome of an election, rather than broad trends. This over-generalisation, and lack of focus on how communities’ in localities were feeling and thinking of voting, is partly why both the general election and Brexit were wrongly predicted (Shakespeare: 2013). More important than this if we are ever to get away from a city/ national or even regional centric approach we need to know what more localities think because in order to devolve power we need these groups to accept a movement that wants to devolve power. Without respecting what these people think and feel then politics will not change or start to represent an increasingly frustrated electorate. The need to get away from such a centralised view point is needed in more than just electoral behaviour studies, this leads us onto our next point, focusing on coastal towns can help us get way from this centralised view point.
3. Try and get away from a London/City/ Region centric focus by analysing different localities and trying to identify difference in patterns and trends in coastal areas compared to these centric areas:
Electoral behaviour is not the only area which needs to have a less centric focus. This has also been said of policy making (and therefore politics), economics, education investment and transport links to name a few items. OSFTED have highlighted how many costal towns are nestled in between areas of affluence and their lower grades are almost hidden as the wider area figures look like above national performance, whilst the coastal areas show below national average performances (Husbands: 2013). Economic devolution and greater devolution in policy making has also been talked by a range of different political parties and think-tanks (McCormick: 2010). Both the Conservative party and the Labour Party put greater devolution into their manifestos at the last election, with think-tanks like the Fabian Society urging greater focus towards devolution of both political and economic decisions, including transport links and infrastructure spending (Vize: 2017).
Importantly, this all means that devolution is being offered without fully understanding what people in different localities will want from it, therefore devolution may be forced on local communities in a way they are not happy with, resulting in devolution possibly not having support, resulting in possible failure of such an important policy. Therefore, having a think-tank that can gather the views of a particular local community, in this case coastal communities, is needed in order to understand how to gain support for greater devolution and make it work for local people, increasing the chance it will be a success. Also understanding coastal communities problems will enable devolution to be targeted more towards issues that coastal communities care about and are affected most by. All this will result in a greater likelihood of successful policy making, which is why a think tank focusing on different and marginalised communities is needed. Solving these local problems will also be key to creating better policy making that will also help to solve some of the UK wide problems, which commentators often argue need solving if the country is to progress (Bonar: 2015). Such issues that coastal towns that need to be resolved before Britain can progress, is education and economic issues. These issues have already been mentioned above, but specifically concern productivity and connectivity issue, like skills gap and infrastructure link issues. We now move onto looking at these two particular issues and why a coastal focus and coastal think-tank is needed.
4. Education and Economic outcomes importance:
As noted above the key problems that these coastal towns have are education and economic problems. These problems can be noted as a skills gap problem, with low attainment levels limiting the ability to make up the skills gap, and also economic problems like poor infrastructure links, producing a lower wage economy (Husbands: 2013). These problems are important to solve as the United Kingdom’s overall problems will be far more difficult to solve without bringing these coastal towns with them when progress is made. This is because without solving these places problems the country’s potential is limited, as only part of the country will gain from progress made. Also skills and talents will not be used, limiting productivity gains, keeping Britain’s economy supressed. This will limit the amount of people who can get an increased income, resulting in less spending and less economic gains.
Britain’s skills gap problem can be helped if places that have poor educational attainment levels can receive successful investment, improving education attainment outcomes. Seeing as coastal towns have similar problems and similar educational attainment problems if more research is done on to why these poor results occur, then action to target these specific areas may be possible. This targeted policy solution method if successful could quickly fix skills gap problems in areas where skills gaps are most present, therefore helping to make a bigger impact on Britain’s economic problems, notably Britain’s skills gap problems (Husbands: 2013).
It also may limit the impact that certain polices can have, for example if infrastructure spending is targeted into the wrong areas, or targets the wrong type of infrastructure investment, it will result in infrastructure spending being ineffective, limiting the ability government has to fix Britain’s economic problems (Torfeild: 2016).
Overall it can be said that the UK’s coastal areas show signs that they are on the heavy receiving end of its economic problems, making it economically important because the way to fix the UK’s economic problems could be through targeting the areas most affected by them. This in turn would push up overall performance, whilst also providing examples to how key problems can be fixed; leading to future policy making that solves problems and raises prosperity. A coastal focus is therefore needed in order to help get a better rounded policy approach that will target economic problems across a wider range of the country. So far investment and policy making has spent a lot of money in these coastal towns, but it has not been done in a targeted way, resulting in limited progress (Berry: 2013).
We now go onto look at the lack of policy focus for these coastal towns and why a coastal think-tank is needed to critique these past policies.
5. Lack of focus on policy outcomes on coastal towns despite large amounts of funding that has gone into central government projects.
Although it has been claimed by some researchers, most notably the CSJ, that coastal towns deprivation has been allowed to persist without enough government action there have been large investments into regeneration projects along the coast (Auswick: 2017). Despite these large investments projects and large spending of tax payers’ money there has been little assessment of the policies short, and even long term, impact. This provides a lack of understanding over which types of investment has had the best impact and what types have had a limited impact, potentially creating a scenario which limits the value of tax payers’ money, whilst also limiting future investments impact. Let us explore examples of investment to see why further research in investment quality may be needed.
Education Investment in Hastings: Education services within the Hastings and St Leonard’s area has been criticised as poor for a very long time, which prompted the new Labour government to put some of its education investment into this area. It created Federations of Secondary schools, which had large revenues pushed into them, on top of this primary schools infrastructure and investment was also created, with finally a College and a University Campus being built under the controversial PFI scheme. These buildings construction costs were estimated to have cost around £90 million (Independent Auditor: 2013). Therefore, it is fairly safe to say that over the last decade, 2000-2010, over a billion pounds was invested into education services. Considering this vast sum of money that has been invested into this area, and specific sector, has had no long term policy review or performance test it is simply not known what the benefit was, and if this level of investment was the best use of tax payers’ money. Also there has been no test on the different types of investment and how different types of investment have impacted upon educational outcomes. For example secondary school investment appears to have long term boosting affect, but further education may have not had the same affect, with the University campus closing down in the coming years (Graham: 2016). However, it is also important to note that government policy changes can limit the impact investment can have, intervening variables such as this have not been taken into account when assessing policy outcomes either. This again shows how government policy, as well as investment, is not focused enough on in these policy areas, possibly resulting in less understanding of what action can help investments succeed, limiting the impact tax payers money can have. This provides a gap that needs to be explored in order to create the maximum efficiency in investment and government policy in coastal towns in the future.
Hastings Pier Investment and bid awards: After Hastings Pier had suffered years of neglect and suffered extensive fire damage, £14 million pounds was raised to rebuild the structure, create a visitors centre and large structure in the middle of the pier. This was a combination of the “Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and significant amounts from the Coastal Communities Fund, the Community Assets Fund, Hastings Borough Council and the East Sussex Invest fund from East Sussex County Council” (Hobden: 2013). There are two claims that have been made regarding the outcome of this investment, one which investments has been good for the area, with another side arguing the Pier is not using its regeneration in a way that is going to meaningfully create increased economic activity. Taking a brief look at both sides the side saying the investment has been a rewarding one say that jobs and increased Tourism have been created, whilst also regenerating the town through a Museum/ Gallery Centre (Hobden: 2013). The Pier Charity also outlined they have spent £600K on creating jobs on the Pier, with the businesses and Kiosks on the Pier generating increased economic activity. This also was reinforced by the claim that 12,000 visitors visit the site on a good weekend day (Hastings Pier Charity: 2017). On the Other hand you have people who argue that the Pier is too empty and will not attract tourists or generate enough money to warrant the investment given (White: 2016). Also in a recent development the Kiosks have closed due to businesses not paying rent, resulting from poor footfall on the pier (Dyer, Hobbis: 2017). The large disagreement amongst residents is well known and reported on, however this is just a debate between passionate Pier volunteers who resurrected a dead structure and locals with a nostalgic view of the Pier who expected more? Is any of this fact? There are methods that can be used to determine the impact of the investment, with suggestions on how the investment can be made for even better value for money. One way is to look at on-line reviews (Kaufer: 2017).
Firstly, the basic stats show us that overall the attraction is held well regarded, with an excellent rating being the most common. The less good ratings are minimal, whilst even when adding the average rating it still not enough to undermine the overall good feeling displayed. This is not concrete evidence, however it is an indication that this structure is helping to tourism and good will towards the town, making the side saying the investment was worth it appear initially correct. Also textual analysis in these comments will help identify key things people like and do not like about the new structure, creating constructive research and feedback. This shows that investigating investment in Tourism is possible and that it can help settle debates surrounding disputed investments, resulting in more clarification and understanding how businesses and social enterprises can best use future investments.
This is not the only contested tourism investment within Hastings, let alone the South Coast, for example the Jerwood Gallery in Hastings is another hotly contested Tourist attraction, where some do not think it adds value, whilst others see it as a major attraction putting Hastings on the map. This again highlights the needed clarification and understanding surrounding these debates, so tourism can be better directed with greater acceptance from the local populations. This will also help develop local economic structures further, which is another overlooked area, which is what we now go onto discuss.
6. An Overall Lack of focus on coastal town’s social and economic situations, and the causes behind them, despite interesting findings from other research:
In 2013 the centre for social justice found that there were a high number of coastal towns that had been forgotten about and that had areas where poverty was allowed to persist, without serious government intervention (Burghart. Alex, Harriet Crawford, Joseph Henson, Paul Langlois, Annette Pereira, Ross Reid, Ben Walker and Tom Ward: 2013). It notified that an alarmingly high number of the most deprived areas in Britain were coastal towns, resulting in problems persisting without being tackled in any meaningful way, resulting in trends of poverty being more likely to persist into the next generation.
Some of the most deprived Seaside coastal towns can be listed as
1 Skegness and Ingoldmells, 2 Blackpool, 3 Clacton, 4 Hastings, 5 Ramsgate, 6 Seaham, 7 Margate, 8 Hartlepool, 9 Great Yarmouth, 10 South Shields, 11 Rhyl, 12 Thanet (Dugan: 2013). However, there are some which have escaped this trend, most notably Brighton (with its arts, business and tourist attractions) and Bournemouth (with its financial sector attractions). (Burghart. Alex, Harriet Crawford, Joseph Henson, Paul Langlois, Annette Pereira, Ross Reid, Ben Walker and Tom Ward: 2013.)
Some of the statistics indicating the plight of these Coastal towns include:
“Of the 20 neighbourhoods (LSOAs) across the UK with the highest levels of working-age people on out-of-work benefits, seven are in coastal towns, with some places now having problems as severe as deprived inner-city areas.”
While 20 per cent of England overall was considered deprived in 2010, the figure for the 31 larger English seaside destinations was 26.9 per cent – slightly higher than the 2007 figure of 26 per cent.
“Larger seaside towns generally fared worse than the middle-sized ones in the ONS analysis, with Blackpool topping the bigger resorts for deprivation. The next most-deprived larger coastal towns were Clacton in Essex and Hastings in East Sussex, with 25 of the 31 larger English seaside resorts having higher levels of deprivation than the measure for England on average.
A large decline in living standards in recent times”.
“Problems with failing schools system, with some coastal towns having double the amount of people with no qualifications than the national average and large skills gaps reported by local employers.”
“As Ofsted recently reported, coastal towns are now amongst the most educationally deprived parts of the country In some parts of Coastal towns fewer than 30 per cent of pupils achieved five A* to C grades at GCSE including English and mathematics in 2009 compared to 54.8 per cent nationally.”
“Of the 10 wards in England and Wales with the highest rates of teenage pregnancy, four are in seaside towns.”
“Higher numbers of children in care.”
“One theme running throughout the five towns was high levels of houses in multiple occupations (HMOs), with people on low incomes and dependent on benefits often living in these accommodations.” “Problems with poor housing becoming an issue.” “Coastal towns become dumping grounds.” – placing strains on local services. “
“Today the proportion of working-age people on out-of-work benefits in the five towns considered there ranges from 19 to 25 per cent (against a national figure of 11.5 per cent for England, Scotland and Wales).”
“Dangerously high levels of family breakdown are a feature of many such areas. In many neighbourhoods in these towns, more than 40 per cent of families with dependent children are fatherless – greatly increasing the likelihood that those children will perform less well at school, become unemployed and face their own family instability.”
These negative spirals, whereby disadvantage attracts and perpetuates further disadvantage, are the forces currently undermining many seaside towns.”
“The financial cost of this unemployment is considerable. In the five towns we look at, the total working-age benefits bill is approximately £145 million a year. This is by no means the full cost; housing benefit for people who are out of work – which is harder to calculate for these small areas – is likely to be over £220 million a year, making the total bill in excess of £365 million.” (Burghart. Alex, Harriet Crawford, Joseph Henson, Paul Langlois, Annette Pereira, Ross Reid, Ben Walker and Tom Ward: 2013) All stats we found at this reference.
The Multiple Deprivation Index shows that “The biggest areas of deprivation for seaside towns were in health and disability, followed by employment. Housing and services fared better (Dugan: 2013).”
The CSJ put this trend and decline down to “Seaside towns’ economies being badly affected by the advent of cheaper foreign travel in the 1970s that decreased demand (Burghart: 2013).” “Economies that already had the disadvantage of being highly seasonal were hit by a permanent loss of business and jobs that deprived local people particularly young local people, of entry-level employment.” The CSJ went onto recommend a number of measures, “including improving skills in seaside towns and considering the devolution of greater powers to local levels so that they can invest in more proactive services and take greater control” (Burghart. Alex, Harriet Crawford, Joseph Henson, Paul Langlois, Annette Pereira, Ross Reid, Ben Walker and Tom Ward: 2013).
Having read through the data above the initial investigations into these forgotten places show some alarming trends, potentially costing the tax payer billions of pounds that might not need to be spent if these social problems could be tackled. Despite these stark trends now coming to greater public attention there has been little further studying or action taken. This presents a large gap in current academic literature and knowledge, which needs to be addressed in order to better understand problems in these places, so one day they may be resolved. It also provides a chance to see how Inequality is created differently in different parts of the UK, and also potentially how Inequality may be best understood and overcome in different parts of the UK. This leads us onto the next point of why Coastal Areas need greater focus in academic research and social action, understanding inequality in the UK at a deeper level.
7. Importance in understanding how inequality affects different parts of the UK differently:
The CSJ noted that there are different issues affecting these coastal towns rather than just poor economic circumstances. It noted that these places in particular have a particular type of historical inequality where a decline occurred in the tourism industry when cheap flights aboard occurred (Burghart. Alex, Harriet Crawford, Joseph Henson, Paul Langlois, Annette Pereira, Ross Reid, Ben Walker and Tom Ward: 2013). This has led to a lack of opportunity and a lower wage economy, mixed with historically low educational attainment levels. On top of this these places, which have traditionally had large hotels and Victorian buildings have attracted HMOs, with cheaper tenancy rates, which has attracted other councils to dump people with social problems into these cheaper areas, creating wider social problems (Yvette: 2013). This has provided a particular type of deprivation and inequality, which has resulted from similar historical events that many coastal towns have shared. This importantly means that traditional methods of economic regeneration and investment may not be effective enough to solve these historical problems as they are different problems to tackle than compared to other regeneration projects, say in the inner cities. For example rebuilding housing in inner cities has been key, where as the housing in these places, although poorly maintained, is not a huge problem as Victorian housing built was large enough and good enough to provide suitable accommodation, despite the neglect that has happened to them. Another method for regeneration in inner cities has been arts, sports and culture methods, however this has been tried in coastal towns and has less impact due to tourist attraction problems (partly due to infrastructure issues). Also an arts community that is too big and not wealthy enough to sustain an economy, with the exception of Brighton, is also a problem (Hastings Borough Council: 2017). Alternatively, infrastructure which has always been good in inner cities is not so good towards the coastal areas, which may be a different investment method is needed.
Importantly, this shows that in order to understand how inequality and deprivation is different in coastal areas more research needs to be done, otherwise more investment projects will be undertaken under massive costs, with less impact than there otherwise could be, resulting inefficiencies with tax payers money. A coastal based think-tank could provide greater research into inequality, resulting in better understanding, better efficiency in investments and helping to get the best outcome of regeneration polices, resulting in a better regeneration outcomes in more coastal towns.
For the following reasons and evidence provided above this is why we feel our social enterprise coastal think-tank is needed.
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