From education to employment

Coastal deprivation and digital levelling up

If you ended up on a beautiful UK beach in the summer – or have ever enjoyed an afternoon with a bucket and spade and a slightly sandy ice-cream, the following statistics may come as a shock. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) (2020)1 67% of coastal towns are in the ‘higher income-deprivation category’ compared with just 36% in non-coastal towns, that is a wide divide, so how can this disparity be addressed? Digital up-skilling can be one of the solutions.

Coastal town deprivation

Eighty-five percent of the coastal towns facing rising levels of deprivation, are in the East of England, East Midlands, Yorkshire and The Humber, and the North East. The trend is also mirrored in the North West where 16 out of 21 coastal towns are in the most deprived incomes category. Overall, over 3.8 million of the 5.4 million people who live in coastal towns in England and Wales, live in one of the 114 highest income-deprived towns.

These towns never recovered from the financial crisis of 2007,2 and with another looming, we must find solutions to this ever worsening situation. Since the demise of the large scale local industries, there has been a persistent trend of skilled workers moving inland to find work and higher wages, and unskilled youth in search of cheaper accommodation and casual work, moving to the coast. Without support, opportunity or aspirations these young people become trapped in a cycle of poverty, alcohol and drugs.

Blackpool is one of the towns on the deprivation front line. Back in March, as part of its Levelling Up blueprint for the town, the Government heralded a ‘transformative King’s Cross style regeneration programme to create beautiful new homes and turbocharge tourism in the area’.3 All very positive – but the tourist season runs from April to October – so what happens to the seasonal workers for the rest of the year?

And what about coastal towns without the allure of being a holiday destination? We need to back up development with other ventures.

Over the past two years, there has been a revolution in the way we work

Over the past two years, there has been a revolution in the way we work. The remote working model, crucial when we were in the grip of the pandemic, could help provide a digital solution to coastal deprivation. We can reverse the continuing exodus of skilled workers heading inland in search of job opportunities, by creating remote or hybrid, digital opportunities. These industries can provide year-round employment to revitalise these towns.

Digital equity requires massive investment and commitment to improving digital connectivity – access to high quality infrastructure. Alongside this we must ensure school-leavers have the requisite IT skills and provide access to upskilling opportunities for those presently Not in Education or Training (NEET) so our young people are work-ready.

The need for applicants with computing skills is country wide. Computing includes skills and concepts like complex problem solving, design, logical reasoning and algorithmic thinking, applicable in many different contexts from science and engineering to business and humanities.

We need to provide our young people with the training, understanding and awareness of technological possibilities, to open the doors to their future technology-based careers.

Fleur Sexton, Deputy Lieutenant West Midlands and Managing Director of PET-Xi  – one of the most hard-hitting and dynamic training providers in the UK with a reputation for success with the hardest to reach – shares her thoughts on how ensuring young people have work-ready digital skills can help to reverse spiralling deprivation in our coastal towns.

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  1. I agree with this 100% but I feel recent changes in government policy mean that the investment will have to come from private sources, and this seems much less likely – if companies with the kind of budgets to make a significant diferences want remote workers they can tap into a global pool of experienced software developers, there needs to be some incentives for businesses to choose investing in untrained uk staff, I for one hope something like this can happen. I am a software developer who lives in Morecambe so I can see the huge task this really is to achieve but also the fantastic possibilities, I believe Bournemouth has modelled this quite well (although to be fair it was never as deprived as many coastal places)