Urgent action is required to support the 'forgotten towns' of Weymouth and Portland, with its multiple problems described as 'Dorset's shame'.

A new report states a fragile economy, shrinking job opportunities and rising costs are placing increasing pressure on communities with few opportunities for young people.

It asks why local authorities and development agencies have shown what it claims is 'scant interest' in the borough which has been in decline for 30 years, haemorrhaging full-time skilled jobs, and examines what can be done to reverse the pattern and bring about change.

The report suggests idyllic images of the area have been used routinely to 'justify reluctance' of local authorities to address the area’s pressing problems.

It claims living in "beautiful Dorset has been seen by MPs, councillors and planners as sufficient to satisfy the needs of communities" - despite evidence of poverty, declining health and poor educational outcomes, along with rising housing costs.

The report authors say a personal communication to them by a former senior executive of Dorset County Council in 2018 described the crisis of family poverty and collapsing social mobility in the borough as “Dorset’s shame”.

A series of measures with renewed action 'from those in power and those who hold the purse strings' is now called for in a bid to improve employment opportunities and boost wages and health outcomes.

Dorset Echo: NewsquestNewsquest (Image: Newsquest)

The report, 'Forgotten Towns – Weymouth, Portland and the coastal economy' is written by South Dorset Research Group, namely local campaigner Philip Marfleet, Emeritus Professor of Social Science at the University of East London (pictured above), and Jenny Lennon-Wood of the Dorset TUC.

Launched with a discussion at Bournemouth University, the report considers why Weymouth and Portland is viewed by government researchers as a 'cold spot' for social mobility and why social deprivation has increased sharply in recent years.

South Dorset is now at, or near, the base of national indices measuring income and social mobility. The report emphasises the urgency of research on key problems including employment, wages and the labour market; family incomes and child poverty; and out-migration of young people. It proposes a series of interim measures to tackle multiple deprivation.

Dr Mel Hughes of Bournemouth University said: “Forgotten Towns is a great example of the knowledge, expertise and insight that local communities have themselves on the issues and challenges which affect them most. The report provides a wealth of data to highlight the extent of the inequities facing residents of South Dorset and should prompt us all to take action.”

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Weymouth town centre

The report examines the consequences for the economy following the closure of Navy and MoD sites and the loss of thousands of skilled jobs in the 1990s – and what it claims is the 'apparent disinterest' of local bodies in providing investment and support.

The report authors conclude by saying: "The year 2022 marks three decades since decisions that profoundly changed the economy of South Dorset, removing local industries and producing a collapse in skilled employment and an abrupt decline in prosperity. We argue that local authorities and agencies have since been ineffective in addressing these problems.

"The report considers why for 30 years policy makers have not successfully addressed the area’s economic decline and increasing deprivation. It identifies problems of exclusion of local people from decision-making – and the implications for communities that feel left behind or even abandoned. It concludes with proposals for further research and for policies that can begin to reverse the pattern of decline."

The report calls for:

  • Dorset Council to undertake a 'poverty review' and to establish an action group to act on it; to commission a wider review of the economic and social crisis by academic experts or an independent research body
  • A liaison group to be created in response to recommendations of the Social Mobility Commission, bringing together councils, Dorset LEP and health trusts
  • Dorset LEP to recognise the area's priority needs and to promote meaningful investment in road, rail, public transport
  • Dorset Council to introduce the Real Living Wage and require all contractors and third-party employers to implement it, as well as encouraging it across the county

* The report can be viewed at https://www.bournemouth.ac.uk/sites/default/files/asset/document/Forgotten%20Towns.pdf

The Echo has contacted Dorset Council for comment on this report.