Shropshire Council is consulting on local economic plans – this makes little sense during the #coronavirus emergency

Shropshire Council is consulting on local economic plans – this makes little sense during the #coronavirus emergency

Shropshire Council has been preparing a Ludlow Local Economic Strategy and it is now out for consultation. It doesn’t really work as a strategy. For example, it identifies the lack of affordable housing as a major issue for Ludlow but affordable housing doesn’t get mentioned in the annexed action plans. How can we promote our local economy when we don’t have enough affordable places for workers to live?

This consultation is taking place during an unprecedented international health crisis and a very uncertain economic future. Maybe there will be business as usual after Covid-19 but that is not looking very likely any time soon. We should be talking about economic recovery and what sort of local stimulus will be needed. I feel that this consultation is a distraction from the important business of the day.

This strategy is old fashioned. It lacks ambition for a green economy in the Ludlow area. The climate emergency is only given a brief mention. It could have been written ten or twenty years ago. We must think green and work green to reduce our impact on the planet and protect future generations.

The strategy is also out of date. It is very unlikely the economy will just bounce back after the Covid-19 shock. Urban areas with good transport links are likely to recover more quickly than deeply rural areas. Post coronavirus we will need to build a more resilient economy and that means a more localised economy and a greener economy. We need a strategy that is fit for 2021 and beyond. I think we need to start again on these local economic strategies.

Pundits have different opinions of what the economy will look like after Covid-19. Some think it will bounce back, albeit debt ridden, with business as usual. Others believe that blows to manufacturing, shipping, airlines and much else will mean that we will need to rethink and rewire the way our economy works. Reducing our reliance on imports, especially manufacturing components, from the other side of the world. And there are those who have been arguing for years we should reduce our dependency on international trade and reverse the trend towards globalisation.

Amid this maelstrom of opinion, Shropshire Council is consulting on its local economic plans. They already feel dated. I asked for the consultation to be delayed until we could judge the impact of Covid-19 on the economy. But the request fell on deaf ears. The consultation on the Ludlow Local Economic Growth Strategy continues until 22 May 2020.

The Ludlow Local Economic Growth Strategy (Ludlow LEG) is one of suite of five local strategies that contribute to the Economic Growth Strategy for Shropshire 2017-2022. The other four are for Bridgnorth, Market Drayton, Oswestry and Whitchurch.

The LEGs all follow the same format and have some similar content.

They begin with a near identical forward by the cabinet member for growth, Steve Charmley, who represents Whittington. For Ludlow, he says: “Ludlow and its surrounding area provides a unique opportunity for businesses looking to invest and grow.” He says the same for the other four towns. We have five ‘unique’ investment opportunities in the county?  I rather think we have five ‘distinct’ investment opportunities.

The Economic Growth Vision for Shropshire is given as:

To be the best place to do business and invest, renowned for its pool of local talent and expertise. We will strive to maximise our economic potential and increase productivity by fully utilising the benefits of our special environment and high-quality assets.

Shropshire Council has three objectives for economic growth:

  • supporting the growth of new and existing businesses
  • attracting inward investment
  • developing and retaining talent and skills

There are five priority actions and targets to help deliver the vision from a local perspective:

  1. Target actions and resources where there are economic opportunities
  2. Enable businesses to start, grow and succeed
  3. Deliver infrastructure to support growth
  4. Meet skills needs of business and people’s aspirations for work
  5. Promote Ludlow [Bridgnorth, Market Drayton, Oswestry and Whitchurch] to investors.

“Shropshire Council understands the need to work closely locally in the production of this strategy and to understand the local perspective of the needs and ambitions of Ludlow [Bridgnorth, Market Drayton, Oswestry and Whitchurch].”

This is followed by a statement on the climate emergency, with the council stating it “will work with businesses and residents in Shropshire to support their efforts to tackle climate change by encouraging behavioural changes that will help reduce carbon emissions and build resilience to climate change.” But this is not a climate emergency centred strategy. Although there are nods towards improved bus services, green thinking is not at the heart of this local economic strategy.

A pen portrait of Ludlow describes Ludlow as the third largest employment centre in Shropshire and a thriving medieval market town. Over the last four years, the number of jobs has risen by around 200, well above the Shropshire average. No data is provided to back this statement up.

“The town has prospered through its individuality and high independent retail offer. There is also an ambition to attract more manufacturers and provide space for creative industries.”

Shropshire Council’s economic vision for Ludlow is:

“To be ambitious in its approach to economic growth and seek to attract inward investment, whilst retaining the individuality, identity, skills and strong cultural heritage of the town.”

There is nothing wrong with that.

The draft strategy then sets out some of the key issues about Ludlow’s economy raised in a workshop and a consultation with councillors.

  • Retaining the individuality and identity of Ludlow whilst looking at how the town can exist in a modern world and be ambitious, attract investment and respond to national challenges such as the change in retail habits.
  • Ludlow has prospered through its individuality and offer of a high number of independent shops.
  • Retaining young people in the town and preventing outward migration to ensure a healthy skills base.
  • Parking is perceived as an issue affecting tourism and there is a perception it is damaging the retail offer.
  • Connectivity improvements along the A49 and ensuring phone signal coverage and broadband across rural hinterland.
  • A balance of creating affordable homes with employment opportunities, particularly for younger residents.
  • A strong community spirit and the importance of retaining this.
  • Capitalising on opportunities to deliver economic growth.

The above all ring true. Yet, the draft strategy offers almost nothing that will address these issues. Affordable housing, one of the most pressing issues in Ludlow is not mentioned in the suit of action plans that are annexed to the strategy.

There is one other key issue that doesn’t ring true.

  • The micro economy of Ludlow is low paid/low skill.

Wages in Ludlow are lower than average or the UK but not for Shropshire. I accept that it is common for us to talk of Ludlow being a low wage economy. But the statement that the micro economy of Ludlow is low paid/low skill needs to be backed up by data.

Wages data for parliamentary constituencies

I also don’t understand why Ludlow is described as low skilled. We have a solid manufacturing base and most of those jobs would not be described as low skilled.

This illustrates the fundamental problem with this economic strategy. It is not based on data. It is too reliant on anecdotes, including some gathered at a workshop that lasted just two hours. A resilient economic strategy must be grounded in data.

As one example, there is no data about unemployment. In February, the claimant count, which is lower than real unemployment, was 2.6% in Ludlow town and its immediate hinterland. That’s higher than Shropshire, 2.1%, but lower than the Great Britain rate of 3%. And historically it’s a low figure.

The previous Shropshire Economic Growth Strategy for 2017-2021 talked of 3,700 new jobs in the county by 2021. With two years to go, only 10,000 new jobs have been created. The strategy GVA would go up by 12%. (GVA is Gross Added Value. The value of goods produced minus the cost of producing those goods.) We only have provisional data for the first year of the five year strategy. During that year GVA went up by 0.5%. A 12% growth always looked a stretch and it is an impossible target impossible now.

Economic strategies should be ambitious. But they also need to be realistic. When I first read the Ludlow Local Economic Growth Strategy, I though it needed rewriting. Now, it seems barely relevant.

Notes

The data for this article are derived from:

One thought on “Shropshire Council is consulting on local economic plans – this makes little sense during the #coronavirus emergency

  1. Economic recovery plans post Covid? So what’s the cost to Shropshire’s tax payers of the SC’s purchase of the three shopping centres in Shrewsbury, said to be a long term investment directed at urban regeneration – especially following the current economic shutdown?

    Before SC starts planning to spend yet more of our money, let’s have a progress report on expenditure already committed.

    Can part of that discussion be about a return to district authorities with control over our own budgets – in short, let’s bring back the South Shropshire District Council, HQ’d in Ludlow. ‘Devolved government rules, OK.’

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