MP adopts Hull’s digital development as blueprint to modernise employment

The chair of a new All Party Parliamentary Group on modernising employment delivered a strong message to the country’s serviced workspace sector about the opportunities offered by remote and hybrid working.

Emma Hardy and Freya Cross

Emma Hardy, the MP for Hull West and Hessle, told the annual conference of the Flexible Space Association (FlexSA) that technology can be used to turn redundant retail units into residential and co-working space and let people do meaningful and rewarding jobs without leaving the places they love.

Ms Hardy said her “Work Hull Work Happy” project is emerging as the blueprint for change and businesses are coming on board to drive the venture.

The MP was invited to address the conference by Freya Cross, the current chair of FlexSA  and Head of Business & Corporate at The Deep, which houses more than 40 firms and 250 staff in its business centre in Hull.

Ms Hardy revealed that Work Hull Work Happy emerged as a result of her involvement in supporting workers through redundancies at BAE Systems in Brough, where people in research and design were allowed to continue in their jobs as remote workers.

She said: “Without this new option, they would have been required to relocate and, no doubt, many would have faced a difficult decision. Not only was this avoided, but BAE discovered that by offering remote working they were suddenly able to recruit talent and skills that had been previously unavailable.

“This started bells ringing. If we struggle to bring jobs to Hull, can we instead, through remote technology, bring Hull to the jobs?”

Ms Hardy highlighted the changes triggered by the pandemic, with the increase in home working and the move towards conducting meetings over Teams and Zoom.

She revealed: “That is how my office now functions, with a morning Teams meeting and time shared between homeworking and my Hull office. I am one of the only members of parliament to actually have no staff in London whatsoever. They all work hybrid from my office in Hull.

“I am acutely aware of the challenges facing the city of Hull and the region. The city ranks high on the Index of Multiple Deprivation. My own constituency is 20th out of 533; North Hull 25th and East Hull 31st.  But Hull also has an extensive network of high-speed fibre broadband, unmatched by any other UK city, with full fibre, ultrafast connection available to 98.8% of properties in Hull North, 97.6% in Hull West and Hessle, and 97.4% in Hull North.”

The FlexSA membership now extends across more than 1,000 sites nationwide including serviced, managed, co-working and shared accommodation and Ms Hardy highlighted the potential for expansion.

She said: “We have high speed fibre broadband, talent, our people used to working remotely but we don’t have the spaces hybrid working. The other thing about Hull and many other cities is that high streets are changing.

“What’s the future of a high street in a place like Hull? People aren’t going out to shop in the way they did before. Many of the shops are starting to close, what’s going to replace them? You can only have so many cafes, that’s not the answer to everything.

“My vision is to be able to walk down the high street and instead of seeing empty shops I see co-working spaces and creative areas. Instead of having empty shops you have people living and working there. It offers people the chance to be social and it’s still affordable.”

Ms Hardy said the new APPG is focused on modernising employment and hiring to solve some of the UK’s most pressing labour market issues.  It will work to make hiring in the UK the fastest in the world by ensuring the process is fully inclusive. It will also harness the latest technology to reduce barriers to hiring, and protect workers from fraud and discrimination.

She added: “Modernising employment and hiring is essential to maximising good job opportunities for all, to make best use of the available talent in the UK, and to promote the regions of the UK as destinations for workers to work flexibly and remotely.”

Mrs Cross added: “Emma’s comments are consistent with what we are seeing at FlexSA. The flexible space industry generally is experiencing rising demand linked to the desire for a more flexible working model. That’s particularly the case in technology, finance and professional services and is something we see reflected at The Deep.

“It also favours regional cities and it plays to our strengths given our unique location, with established residential developments throughout the city centre and a number of new apartment projects in the pipeline. People also have a lot of leisure and cultural options within a short walk of their desk at The Deep.”