Unemployment, as measured by claimants, is up by 21% year on year in the Ludlow area. The numbers of unemployed people are still relatively low but we have to ask why local unemployment is growing. Nationally, unemployment has fallen by nearly 2% in the same period.
During the Great Recession of 2008 to 2013, unemployment soared across the country including here in Ludlow. At the peak in February 2013, 1,146 people were unemployed and claiming benefits in the Ludlow constituency. From that peak, there has been a steady fall in claimants, reaching a low point of 368 in September 2015. Since then number has grown to 454 in September 2016. This is a clear trend upwards over the last year and we can’t ignore it.
These are not huge numbers compared to the lengthy dole queues we have seen during recessions. But we must be concerned that unemployment is rising not declining. Nationally, unemployment is down 1.8% over the last year. Just north of the Ludlow constituency, Shrewsbury and Atcham has seen a 7.8% fall in unemployment. The North Shropshire constituency is up 5%, still less than the 21% increase we have seen on the south of the county. Only 31 of the 678 parliamentary constituencies across the UK have has a higher growth rate of unemployment claimants over the last year.
There are potential storm clouds ahead. No one knows what impact Brexit will have on local jobs but a lot of local businesses rely on exports to European markets. Trade rules after Brexit could make sales to EU countries harder. We also heard yesterday that Travis Perkins is to close 30 branches (amendment – there is no suggestion that the Ludlow branch is to close).
In these uncertain times, we have to ask the question, is Ludlow and Shropshire a great place to do business?
An analysis by the Legatum Institute published yesterday ranked the prosperity of all UK local authority areas. Shropshire proves to be middle ranking with two exceptions. We score above average on health, ranking 81st out of 389 local authorities. But on business environment, we are close to rock bottom, 359th position. Put another way, according to this analysis, only 30 local authorities in the whole of the UK are worse places to do business than Shropshire. A low rate of entrepreneurship and slow broadband speeds were major factors in Legatum marking Shropshire down on its business environment, along with poor access to retail distribution services.
Data from the Office of National Statistics shows that we’d have another 1,300 businesses in Shropshire’s unitary area if we’d matched the 1.1% growth seen since 2009 in the ten counties most similar to us.
Despite these gloomy statistics, Shropshire Council is to cut its economic growth and business support by 78% over the next two years (from £322,000 to £71,000). There will be enough money to hold a few business breakfasts and seminars and no more. In September 2015, only seven English authorities failed to bid for devolved powers from central government to help boost job growth. Shropshire was one of them. The council is obsessed with shedding public sector jobs rather than helping create new jobs to replace them.
As we approach Brexit, we more than ever need a clear economic vision for our county. All we hear from Shropshire Council is about recessionary cuts not about where the economy of this county is heading. That needs to change.
. The House of Commons Library publishes monthly data for unemployment by constituency. The latest data are for September 2016. The statistics published here are for those claiming Jobseekers Allowance or Universal Credit. Not everyone who is unemployed is able to claim these benefits, or wishes to. The true unemployment rate is likely to be at least twice as high as claimant rate.
. The number of enterprises in Shropshire fell by 0.3% between 2009 and 2014 from 13,020 to 12,790. Across our ten statistical neighbours, enterprises grew by 1.1%. Enterprises in largely rural districts grew by 2.0%. Source: Office of National Statistics business demography.