Updated: Mar 11, 2020
I believe that within the people of Southend are countless great ideas for starting a business, and that there are enough people in the town that would buy any given product/service.
However, experience tells me that the cost of starting a business, particularly in the High Street may prove too high a barrier for most people. Labour is the Party of the worker, and working for ourselves in business is just as valid as any other area of work; and the high costs do restrict potential workers from going it alone.
I have worked for and alongside one of Southend’s most successful entrepreneurs for almost 25 years, have gained a wealth of invaluable managerial and business knowledge and experience, have a 1st Class Degree and Masters Degree in Business (MBA), and would still feel cautious about the success of any business I were to start.
Southend High Street
Once upon a time every shop was owned and operated by Southend people. Butchers, clothing, fruit and veg, and so on. Then the influx of national chains came in and stole a march on the independents. Every high street looked the same, and the people working in them by and large did and do not have the same passion as the indies. They were charged enormous rents and rates, which local entrepreneurs could then not afford.
Now in very quick circumstances we find the nationals going down one by one. Most argue this is because of online shopping, and while this has certainly had a major impact, the impact is not because people don’t like physically shopping, because we still do and would continue to do if the shops were there! It is that the nationals/MNEs could no longer afford to sell from those premises because the cost base was so high to be sustainable and their reaction to the change has been catastrophically slow. This due largely because the staff on the shop floor - who actually see what is going on - in the main do not care about the business and failed to pass vital information on to the board who were happy in their ivory towers.
There is a huge window of opportunity for the return of Southend owner/operators in the high street selling unique products and services only available in Southend. BUT it cannot be done if the costs don’t work!
Southend Council must fight tooth and nail to bring down and influence the reduction of business costs. This is not about socialism or capitalism, it is about working within the economic system that we have inherited - because no one is talking about changing the system!
It really is a simple equation: lowest possible costs equals business survival. Combine that with a good service or product and the business will thrive and employ more people. The more people with jobs, the more people with money, and the more money can be spent on products and services creating a thriving economy that is able to pay for the public services we wall want.
A Local Solution
One part of my job as Operations Director is overseeing recruitment. I have interviewed over 10,000 of Southend's youth and over the years I have formed several observations. Firstly, they are generally speaking incredibly talented people. The energy, fun, intellect, and potential is absolutely there. Secondly, there seems very few opportunities in Southend for them to fulfil their potential. This, often accompanied with home-life issues, then seems to lead them to feeling lost, leaving many of them disillusioned, depressed and in some cases suicidal.
On countless occasions I would be the one who they went to for help despite the fact that I was grossly out of my depth, and the best I could do was send them home from work. Fortunately I learnt of the concept of Chaplaincy while at University. They are a multi-faith confidential listening service, but who mainly come from a Christian background. With the help of former Southend Chief of Police Mick Thwaites, Hannah Bucke was introduced to the Company. Adventure Island and our other businesses soon became a place that could support those with mental health issues, and on Hannah’s recommendation we now also pay for counselling, which is arranged on the day.
It gladdens me that I have been able to be an integral part in this, however, the causes still played on my mind. One of the causes is the feeling of having no direction after they finish college or university. They spent years learning the trade of film director, journalist, musician, artist, engineering and so on. Then suddenly the last exam is done.
For instance, they just spent all their time putting together what they think might be the new Tarrentino movie for which they were immensely proud of, then suddenly the course finishes and they are no longer film directors. In their minds they had real purpose and direction and then nothing overnight. They spend some time working out how they are going to be film directors and then work out that it is in fact not possible - certainly not in Southend! The same can be said for nearly all the subjects that are taught in Southend further education. Often It leads to nothing anything to do with their subject, and it begs the question: why are they taught it?
Although I can speculate, the answer is still a mystery to me. However there is a solution that could both utilise the skills of our youth and kick-start the local economy. The college and university are educating our youth in specific trades, who then waste all their learning and skill as they enter the workforce doing something quite unrelated. Ideally every skilled person should be able to sell their products and services in Southend High Street and online at nearly no cost. For example, all the fashion students should be able to sell their garments in the high street. There are hundreds of fashion students in the town with great skills, and who could produce products that no other town has. It would be the sustainable competitive advantage that could never be replicated. And you could apply this to all trades and skills that are learnt.
Turn back the hands of time and all industries had to start somewhere. There is no reason why Southend can’t be a hub for any which industry we choose. We already have the talent, which is the hardest part, simply providing facilities which they can use to maximise its potential is the very least a forward thinking and inspirational Council could do.
Imagine a high street and online services packed full of Southend talent selling products and services only available from us.
We would be turning back the hands of time with local people running businesses for the people of Southend.