South Coast Metropole (1999)
Presentation: A network of cities
Authors: Mark Bobe, Louis Shurmer-Smith



The South Coast Metropole was established in 1993 as a partnership of five local authorities on the South coast of England; Poole, Bournemouth, Southampton, Portsmouth and The Isle of Wight. The purpose of the partnership is representing the regions economic interests and raising the profile of the region nationally and around the world. It works continually to respond to openings presented by the Single European Market and to exploit opportunities for development. (South Coast Metropole, 1999). As part of its role in representing the region the South Coast Metropole promotes the region at international trade events, seeks to secure funding under the EU Regional Innovation and Technology Transfer Strategies (RITTS) programme, encourage tourism in the region and argues at a national and European level for more investment in infrastructure in the region. Such work is undertaken in conjunction with partner institutions such as Chambers of Commerce, Training and Enterprise Councils (TECs), universities and colleges and the private sector.

Given its geographical location and, not least, the expanding and highly successful ferry links across the Channel, the South Coast Metropole has naturally sought to develop formal links with the Normandy Metropole (Caen, Rouen, Le Havre). Cross-channel accords already exist at county, city and university levels, promoting cooperation in a number of fields; economic, social and educational.

Over recent years the South Coast Metropole partnership has been successful in securing EU funds under the Exporting Cultural and Commercial Heritage Overseas (ECHO) and Regional Innovation and Technology Transfer Strategies and Infrastructure (RITTS) programmes. This has resulted in the investment of 645 000 ECUs in the promotion of tourism in the region (in conjunction with Cherbourg and Le Havre in France and Flevoland in the Netherlands) and under the ECHO programme and 142 000 ECUs under the RITTS programme to investigate the potential of a regional innovation strategy.

The Region in Context

The member authorities of the South Coast Metropole have all become Unitary Authorities since 1997. This has meant that the earlier "two-tier" structure of local governance (county and local authority) in these areas has been supplanted by "single-tier" authorities with responsibility for all service provision within their respective areas. However, this does not mean that the new Unitary Authorities exist, or indeed have existed, in isolation from their hinterlands. Portsmouth, the Isle of Wight and Southampton all remain within Hampshire whilst Poole and Bournemouth are situated in Dorset.

The placement of Poole and Bournemouth within the county of Dorset has been contentious, by removing them from Hampshire the two boroughs now fall within the auspices of the South West Region for Central Government administrative purposes, unlike the remaining three members of the Metropole who are located within the South East Region. This has resulted in a degree of local resentment, represented by the following statement in the House of Commons by John Butterfill MP:

"The Government are obsessed with regionalism, but the existing regions unfortunately fail to reflect the true economic boundaries within which we operate. Bournemouth and Dorset are in the south-west region. We were moved there by a previous Conservative Government in an appalling act of vandalism. Bournemouth was snatched from Hampshire and thrust into Dorset. We have no particular connection with the south-west. The road links from Dorset to the south-west are virtually non-existent, and the rail links are totally non-existent. All our connections are towards London and the central south coast region. My local authority and others along the south coast have developed the South Coast Metropole, which works together to market attractions and economic development. That is sensible, and we should have a central southern region that incorporates all the areas that sit together naturally."

(Hansard, May 5th1999)

Mr Butterfill is arguing that Poole and Bournemouth have far more in common with Metropole members in the South East than with other urban areas in the South West. The two areas are quite distinct, and as will become clear, the characteristics of Poole and Bournemouth fit more neatly into the South East than the South West.

The South East of England contains 19 counties and unitary authorities, there are seven urban areas with over 100 000 inhabitants (the region excludes London which is treated as a region in it's own right). The Cabinet Office (1999) argue that the region may be sub-divided into three quite distinct areas; the west and south west, the coastal belt and older industrial areas. The area to the west and south west may be characterised as being advanced economically, the coastal belt (including the Thames Estuary) is an area of declining industry and tourism and poor access to London (for example the Isle of Thanet in Kent), finally the older industrial areas would include those areas that have historically served port or defensive roles. The economy of the South East region is buoyant and tends to be concentrated in the high technology, high value added and service sectors. Proximity to London ensures that the region's economy is thoroughly integrated with London's and to an increasing degree the economy of proximate areas of mainland Europe. Approximately 40 per cent of the land surface enjoys some form of statutory protection either as Green Belt, Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) or Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). There is considerable variation within the region in terms of deprivation and unemployment. Certain areas of Kent and some of the major South coast towns stand out as sites of relatively high levels of unemployment such as the Isle of Thanet in Kent with an unemployment rate of 8.6 per cent. With regard to members of the South Coast Metropole the Isle of Wight stands out as having the lowest GDP per head in 1995 and the lowest proportion of those of working age in employment (for spring 1998, in spring 1999 Southampton became the worst area) in the entire South East region (Cabinet Office, 1999, 33). Portsmouth has the highest International Labour Organisation (ILO) unemployment rate of 8.7 per cent and the poorest examination performance at age 16 in the region (Cabinet Office, 1999).

The South West region (incorporating Bournemouth and Poole) has the largest land area of any English region. Protected land and sites form a large proportion of the landmass with two National Parks (Exmoor and Dartmoor), 33 per cent of the region has AONB status, approximately 20 per cent of all of England's SSSIs are located in the region, more than 50 per cent of England's Heritage Coast and approximately 25 per cent of all listed buildings (Cabinet Office, 1999, 30). It is therefore clear that the South West is wholly different in character to the South East. Business and financial services dominate the economy of the South West contributing over 25 per cent to the regions GDP, defence work has historically been of importance but has suffered a marked decline over recent years. Whilst scoring highly in terms of quality of life, low costs for land and labour and the high skills base of the region it is not without it's problems. The main areas for concern are relatively poor communications, rural poverty and isolation, the declining economies of small towns and the decline of traditional industries. As an exemplar of this decline, Cornwall has the lowest average earnings and lowest GDP of any county in England (Cabinet Office, 1999, 30). It is clear that Bournemouth and Poole, whilst for administrative purposes have been placed in the South West of England, share more in common with the other members of the South Coast Metropole located in the South East region.

The South-East has the largest regional economy outside of London, however the region's performance in a European context places it 23rd out of 77 European Regions (Hampshire Economic Partnership, 2000). Major weaknesses in the regional economy, highlighted by research, include skills shortages, the need for major infrastructure investment and a policy led demand for sustainable development in the region. On April 1st 1999 the South East England Development Agency (SEEDA) was established (in conjunction with other Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) throughout the UK) to facilitate development in the region. SEEDA will become the pivot for economic development in the region, becoming a new tier of economic policy implementation between central and local government. This represents an effective return of regional development policy which was effectively abolished by the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher in the early 1980s. Early in 2000 the Hampshire Economic Partnership (HEP) published a research paper entitled "An assessment of trends and issues in the Hampshire Economic Partnership Area." Whilst focused on Hampshire (including Portsmouth and Southampton in the South Coast Metropole) it provides a good background to some of the common issues affecting South Coast Metropole members including those outside Hampshire.

The economy of Hampshire is dominated, as in the rest of the UK, by the service sector which employs approximately 72 per cent of employees in employment. This employment within the service sector is concentrated in finance, construction, business services, public administration and health, indeed the concentration in such activities is greater than for any other area of the UK. However, there is a strong industrial sector present in the county with a marked focus in precision engineering, high technology and defence contracting. Approximately 31 per cent of employees in employment work in enterprises with more than 200 employees, such enterprises constitute one per cent of all businesses in Hampshire. By far the largest number of enterprises, 83 per cent, employ less than 10 workers and account for 20 per cent of all employment. This presents an interesting pattern of economic activity in that the majority of employment is in large enterprises but the vast majority of enterprises are small. A majority of enterprises in the Hampshire area (83 per cent) conduct their business within the region and within the UK. However 17 per cent of enterprises in the manufacturing and wholesale sectors are involved in extensive export activity with the majority of production going to Europe (69 per cent) and North America (14 per cent). The fastest growing sector in Hampshire is business services which saw a 27 per cent increase in employment between 1996 and 1997. Financial services employs approximately 30 000 people in the county with especial concentrations in the Southampton and Basingstoke areas. One of the largest employment sectors in the county, employing 46 000 people, is tourism which contributes approximately 6.6 per cent of the areas GDP.

Overall economic activity rates within Hampshire (81.5 per cent) are higher than the national average (78.9 per cent) indicating the relative strength of the regions economy, this is especially true for male employment (88.3 per cent) although some concern is expressed over female participation rates which are lower (74.9 per cent), probably due to the need for better childcare facilities.

Nationally there has been a trend for the casualisation of employment whereby jobs have been increasingly part-time or based on short contracts, this trend is a key feature of the flexible economy approach adopted by previous governments. Within Hampshire the trend has been less pronounced although not without impact, Hampshire has a higher proportion of highly qualified and skilled workers than the national average and this is reflected in recruitment within the region with 70 per cent of vacancies for full-time staff and 75 per cent for permanent positions.

Overall the Hampshire area and the South Coast Metropole member areas are relatively affluent and economically prosperous. However, the member authorities do vary considerably in terms of the overall structure of their economies and pockets of relative deprivation continue to persist. The following section looks in greater detail at the member authorities of the South Coast Metropole and highlights those areas of common interests amongst members and indeed some of the unique aspects of individual areas.