BUILDING on the foundations of Hampshire’s worldrenowned maritime industry is the key to galvanising the Solent’s economic fortunes in the wake of the financial crisis.

That is the verdict of an independent report warning businesses and politicians that they must harness the potential of the region’s waterside location to prevent it falling behind competitors in the south east.

The report, published by Centre for Cities, comes amid negotiations of Southampton and Portsmouth’s joint £1.5bn City Deal bid aimed at securing thousands of new jobs and homes to both cities.

The document identifies both cities as vital economic hubs at the heart of the region’s economy, pointing to their role in providing nearly 40 per cent of high skilled jobs in the area.

But it warns they fail to “punch above their weight” despite strong growth over the past decade because the area is dependent on large employers and the public sector compared to elsewhere in the south east, making it vulnerable to business failure and public sector cuts.

The report sets out recommendations for the Solent Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and Partnership for Urban South Hampshire (PUSH) to safeguard and create more jobs and homes.

These include harnessing its established maritime sector already boosted with global connections through two ports, an airport and four universities, creating a business growth hub and urging partners to draw up the region’s economic priorities. Southampton City Council leader Jacqui Rayment said: “The marine industry has a huge impact on our economy, from major employers through to their small and mediumsized business (SME) supply chains and employees.

“It’s vital we prevent growth being delayed at such a crucial time and it’s our job to ensure ministers are aware of the economic evidence in this report when selecting their second wave of City Deals.”

Solent LEP chairman Doug Morrison said the group has already identified the maritime sector as a key area of growth and added: “We are developing relationships with key agencies to ensure we unlock the huge potential of the Solent maritime sector and deliver much needed private sector jobs for the area.”

PUSH chairman Cllr Seán Woodward said the report provides an “economic platform” for sustainable growth and prosperity.