Can we bridge the gap ?
Recently members have been mulling over what our response should be to the Economic Strategy work being undertaken by the Council.
At first glance it seems simple enough – build more houses, especially affordable ones, create additional space for employment and establish good transport links between them. But scratch below the surface and you’ll discover an underlying issue that we can’t ignore.
Despite the fact that we live in a relatively small place there are huge differences in lifestyles and life expectancy for that matter. On the one hand there are very many highly qualified people earning good wages and enjoying all the benefits of an affluent society. But on the other, there are those who are missing out, lacking qualifications and out of touch with what it means to be in employment. That’s not a sound foundation for a successful and sustainable local economy.
Somehow we have to come up with a strategy which allows the first group to continue to prosper, creating, developing and growing new businesses, but at the same time doing what we can to open up opportunities for those who are currently not doing so well, which is no easy matter.
That was confirmed by a workshop I attended, arranged by David Hobdey from St John’s, who is leading some work on this topic on behalf of the Future Ambition Board. Everyone agreed such a division in society was unwelcome, and there were a variety of ideas about how we might start to approach it with a consensus that whatever we come up with, we should avoid people feeling they were having something “done” to them.
One of the key elements in this is to offer the necessary skills training and Jayne Davis and her colleagues at Bath College are working tremendously hard to ensure appropriate facilities and courses are available. But something else that is needed is for businesses to do more to help introduce people to the world of work. That might mean devising meaningful work experience schemes or perhaps being more proactive in encouraging staff to become engaged with community groups.
It’s a tough ask at a time when there are so many challenges for companies to overcome, but if we can somehow crack this one and reduce the numbers of the “have nots” there will be benefits for everyone.