Top business economist offers his insights on how Essex can boost its economy

Andrew Sentance. Picture: Emma Filby

Andrew Sentance. Picture: Emma Filby - Credit: Archant

Essex as a whole is quite prosperous, but the business economist Dr Andrew Sentance admits he’s not seen much on television lately that “brings out the more positive side of Essex.”

Andrew Sentance, the chair of the Essex Economic Commission, speaking at the Essex Life and Economy

Andrew Sentance, the chair of the Essex Economic Commission, speaking at the Essex Life and Economy Lecture on how Essex can improve and strengthen its economic performance at Essex Business School, University of Essex - Credit: Archant

The business guru was sharing his thoughts on how Essex can strengthen its economic performance with an audience at the University of Essex’s Essex Business School last week, when ‘brand Essex’ arose. “The fact that there was a whole TV series devoted to Jaywick (Benefits by the Sea) is an indication that pockets of deprivation in Essex give a warped view of Essex as a whole,” he said. “And the image that The Only Way Is Essex (TOWIE) presents certainly doesn’t help.”

Dr Sentance knows more than most people about how to boost Essex’s economy, as not only is he senior economic adviser to PwC and chair of the Essex Economic Commission, but he also previously served as a member of the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee. Dr Sentance, who is an ‘Essex man’ himself, living in South Essex, is also a part-time rock musician and church organist.

While he acknowledges there’s no “magic silver bullet” for Essex, he says what’s needed is for the county’s different components to work together better, and to “project themselves much more positively” in the public domain.

“Local authorities and businesses with a large stake in Essex should develop a ‘team Essex’ culture – they should link together the strengths of the Essex economy and address the challenges,” he said. “Essex County Council are trying to do that, but efforts by local authorities are quite fragmented. Smaller local authorities need to make a more coherent effort to project Essex more positively and address the challenges of the coastal areas.”

Dr Sentance also asserted that while Essex performs well relative to the rest of the UK on employment, it lags behind other regions in skills and qualifications. “The percentage of the workforce reaching level four qualification or above is substantially below the UK average,” he said. “In Essex, we have some of the best universities in the world, and there are very good schools feeding into them. But not everybody wants to and is capable of a university education. We need a combination of work experience and apprenticeship or technical education. The government is doing that, but its starting at a low base. Braintree has a good further education college, but in other more rural areas it’s difficult to get this kind of education.”

While the economy in the West Essex corridor is booming, Dr Sentance claims that the “genuine issues of economic deprivation” on the Tendring coast have not been properly addressed by policy makers - “Particularly the lack of good transport links,” he added. “The issue for North Essex is that its not so close to London, and being close to a hub of economic activity is very important.”

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While Essex has a good track record on business start ups and a large number of small and medium sized companies, particularly in West Essex, they’re not leading to the development of larger businesses. “Expanding the reach of superfast broadband would help,” he added.