We need a laser-like focus on skills for South London

A tram travelling down a bustling street in Croydon, London

Matthew Hamilton was recently appointed as the new Director of the South London Partnership – the founding partner of BIG South London. We caught up with him to get the inside track on what his priorities will be for shaping the landscape for South London business.

What role do the South London Partnership and BIG South London play in stimulating business growth in South London?

In terms of sector and size – South London boasts a diverse range of businesses – which is incredibly exciting. Then you look across the Boroughs that we serve, and again, there’s a range of different support schemes and services. The role of the South London Partnership and BIG South London is to harness all these different perspectives and all the skills that the wide variety of businesses have and join the dots to create new partnerships and opportunities.

There’s a huge amount of expertise, talent and resources within our universities, further education colleges and the NHS. We need to harness this and ensure we can support knowledge exchange so that the needs of South London businesses can be met.

What do you see as the business challenges in South London?

It’s well known that there is a productivity gap. Gross Value Added (GVA) is typically how we measure productivity, and in South London, the GVA per hour is a lot less than the wider London. Household income and the amount of business investment in R&D per capita of the workforce are also lower.

It’s easy to characterise certain parts of South West London as leafy and affluent, but there are also significant pockets of deprivation across all the areas, and all parts of South London are facing acute workforce and skills challenges. We need to look at how we support the talent and skills that undoubtedly exist but to do that in a way that enables South London to reach its potential and address the productivity gap. The lack of transport infrastructure compared to other London sub-regions is also noticeable, and I know that’s something that leaders across South London are keen to address.

What do you hope to achieve in this role?

It’s easy to discuss partnership as an esoteric thing rather than a reality. To me, it’s about making ‘partnership’ a reality. It’s about actually bringing people, councils, businesses, education institutions, the NHS where appropriate – all the partners in South London together. Spotting where those opportunities are to build effective partnerships that will have real benefits for the businesses and residents of South London. And that’s not easy, but it’s vital. It’s something that you must work on.

Effective partnerships must offer tangible benefits. What is the added value to those who are choosing to give up their hard-earned time? We’re all so busy, businesses in particular. People should be able to feel, taste and smell the benefits of partnership working.

I’ve previously undertaken roles that have directly impacted the NHS, higher education, business, and local government. So, I’ve seen the challenges from all these different perspectives and that’s what excited me about this role. I know the potential and opportunities that can be unlocked across all these different institutions if they work effectively together.

So that’s the vision. What about shorter-term practical strategies that could benefit South London businesses?

One of the big challenges and this isn’t unique to South London, is its workforce. How can we ensure that, in a really tight labour market, people with the right skills are available to work and encouraged to work within the South London area? Equally, how can we enhance the skills of our residents – not just with the skills needed today but also with the skills they will need in the future?

We need a clear vision for skills creation and retention that’s got buy-in from businesses, education, and Borough Councils. This is a piece of work which we’re kicking off right now, and that engagement across all parties is front and centre of what we’re doing.

One of the priorities going forward is South London’s contribution to the Local Skills Improvement Programme (LSIP). It will be really important to have a laser-like focus on skills for South London. What are the skills that businesses and the public sector need within South London in order to thrive? And what are the central roles of Further Education colleges and Higher Education Institutes in supporting that? One key point that I’ve heard loud and clear in my initial meetings is that we also need to focus on the pipeline of educators and skills facilitators. We can only expand the skills base if we have people who can share their expertise and knowledge across a wide range of areas.

What one message would you like to give to South London businesses?

We want to hear what your challenges are and what skills are needed to help your business thrive – you are a key part of driving the partnership going forwards.

BIG South London has already supported lots of businesses across the region, including the development of new workspaces in every area, but I would encourage more organisations to engage with the opportunities and continue to embrace partnerships working through the opportunities BIG South London provides.

I’m really looking forward to getting to know businesses from the region better and working with you all in the near future.


Matthew Hamilton Bio: 

Matthew Hamilton started as Director of the South London Partnership in January 2023. He has previously worked in local government both at the Local Government Association (LGA) when he oversaw the delivery of the LGAs £20 million improvement programme. Matthew has also led membership organisations for district councils and universities delivering nursing and AHP education. Prior to this he worked at the Department of Health where he worked as a Private Secretary with ministers and took through the bill that created the Care Quality Commission.

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Matthew Hamilton



Posted 06/03/23

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