I have already written on the problems that engineering company Flowfit has had finding premises for expansion. It had hoped to move to the biodigester site but in recent weeks, Shropshire Council has ruled that out. The ground breaking biodigester closed in 2012 and has only had sporadic use since. Shropshire Council now says it will not decide on the biodigester’s future until the end of 2023, more than a decade after the facility stopped processing food waste. At least one other light engineering company was eyeing up the site. But it has now been sterilised for two and a half years.
Council officers have told companies that employment land is in demand in South Shropshire. I am now asking for urgent action on providing employment land in Ludlow.
There is demand in Ludlow and there will be more demand in the next few years from the 750 homes with planning permission, many of which are under construction. We already have a very tight labour market.
The most detailed data on employment we have is for the Ludlow constituency which stretches from Bishop’s Castle to Bridgnorth. Caring and hospitality are often regarded as low skilled occupations, though many would challenge that. In Ludlow constituency, about 10% of employees are in caring, leisure and other service occupations. More than 60% are employed in managerial, professional, technical and skilled trade occupations, around 25,000 jobs. Yet Shropshire Council thinks that employment in our area is low skilled.
Our population is well educated. More than two-fifths (44%) have a qualification of NVQ4 or above (NVQ4 is a qualification that is better than A levels). However, this is distorted by our retired population, well-educated but economically inactive (30% of residents in the Ludlow constituency is retired). Even so, it is well above the West Midlands average of 37% of adults with at least NVQ4.
I have no doubt that we can improve on the skills base in Ludlow. One of the ways of achieving that is through having skilled jobs with associated training and apprenticeships.
Shropshire Council thinks our area is low paid. Official data does not back that up. The average gross weekly pay for workers in the Ludlow constituency is £583.00. In Shrewsbury & Atcham the average is £526.30, the West Midlands £551.70 and Great Britain £587.10. We are not doing badly on pay but like everywhere, there is a huge disparity between the highest paid and those on the Living Wage.
We need more employment space. The local plan allocates 8.5 hectares of land south of Sheet Road opposite the Eco Park. This needs to be readied for development though construction of an access road and installation of services. If that doesn’t happen quickly, we will lose companies and skilled jobs to other towns.
Elsewhere in the UK, public authorities would see this as a challenge. They would have a team identifying sites and securing training in cases of skill shortages.
I will be asking a question to highlight this issue at Shropshire Council’s cabinet on Wednesday.
Question to Cabinet on Ludlow business investment
Recently a Ludlow light engineering company was in discussions with Shropshire Council over a potential move to the former biodigester site on Coder Road. After 9 months of discussions, with the company regularly chasing officers for responses, the company was told earlier this month that the site was not available until Shropshire Council decides on the future of the site in late 2023. Two and a half years from now.
The company is now looking at sites in mid Wales where there is more support from local government for business expansion.
At least one other light industrial company in Ludlow is looking for local premises in which to expand within months.
Council officers have told companies that employment land is in demand in South Shropshire. There is certainly demand in Ludlow. There will be more demand in the next few years.
Ludlow and the adjacent parish of Ludford have approval for around 750 homes, many of which are under construction. We already have a very tight labour market. We have a shortage of semi and high skilled jobs in the engineering sector, a sector that supports hundreds of jobs locally.
1) What plans does Shropshire Council have for the former biodigester site and the adjacent former household recycling centre on Coder Road?
2) What plans does the council have to ensure that the greenfield employment site south of Sheet Road (LUD052) is brought forward to accommodate company expansion and new businesses at the earliest opportunity.
3) Proposals for regeneration of the fringes of Ludlow centre were discussed with former council leader Peter Nutting and officers on a walking tour of Ludlow in May 2018. What has happened since that meeting to examine options for brownfield regeneration in Ludlow?
4) The Ludlow LEGS identifies Ludlow and its surrounding area as “a unique opportunity for businesses looking to invest and grow.” That is correct. But it also states, “the micro economy of Ludlow is low paid/low skill”. That is incorrect. What plans does the council have to update the “final draft” of the Ludlow LEGS?