This week I had the pleasure of attending a Town Conference here in Hastings. This was the third Town Conference they had organised since 2003 and I confess I was impressed with the enthousiasm of the people present to continue with the vast improvements we have seen in our town over the last 15 years. There must have been about 150 people who gave up a full day (more in a public sector sense than in enterprise Britain terms) in return for a free lunch (thank you tax payers – I enjoyed it) and interesting and constructive discussion.
Three things struck me though, which leave room for improvement for the future.
The first is the average age of the people present. I am closer to 60 than to 50 and I suspect I was under the average age of the people in the room. Whilst I greatly value the experience people of my age bring, it is not the group of people who will be the future leaders, business people or workers of our town.
Across the nation we seem to have trouble engaging the next generation and they are key to our businesses and our futures. If you have a business consisting only of 60 year olds, you will struggle. You need to have a balance. The same applied to this conference.
So next time, lets invite some students from our new academies, our college and our branch of the University of Brighton. Even if they do not speak up now, they will be provide a more valuable contribution in a next conference and start to engage more. The investment is tiny, but the longer term payoff could be dramatic.
The second thing was the mix of backgrounds. I was (obviously) on the table discussing how to bring more businesses to Hastings. One person was a local manager of a very large worldwide company with a branch in Hastings, which provides a healthy employment base here. The other was the former manager of a similar company, though not as big worldwide. The rest were all employed by the public sector.
What I missed was any representation from those key small businesses which we all agree will lead us out of our economic situation. I was there, but I was a last minute invitee and only because of a chance conversation with one our councillors. It would have been no problem to bring half a dozen small business leaders in. These people could help determine what is needed to make Hastings an even better place to do business.
The final item was the view of some people of what a work environment should look like. One of the wonderful features of Hastings is that we have the last fishing beach in the country where the boats are pulled onto the beach. It could be brilliant; at the moment it is only an interesting feature, mainly because it is an absolute tip. Fridges are dumped, car wrecks are left, plastic, dead fish, bits of discarded netting, etc are all dumped. Most of it has nothing to do with fishing.
Fishing from the beach must be a hard way to make a living, as well as being cold and wet, but this work environment is not enhanced by being used as a dump. If it were cleared it could be developed into the tourist attraction it should be as well as being a much more pleasant place to work. The beach is owned by the public and ‘loaned’ to the fishermen under some agreement which is no doubt ancient.
I argued we should clean it up and make it the unique historical feature and tourist attraction it should be. It was argued by one of the people at the table it was a ‘working beach’ and should look the way it does. I wonder what her office looked like? No doubt it has carpeting throughout, good heating and the latest office chair to the best health and safety standards.
A good work environment is important, especially if you want to achieve high standards.
It was a good gathering this conference and I look forward to seeing what the Council does with it. I do believe that they will continue with the excellent improvements we have seen in our town, which gave its name to possibly the most historical battle in our history.
Now let us get enterprise Britain to conquer Hastings – even the French knew it was a great place to come to almost 1,000 years ago.