During this months Economic Development Scrutiny Committee, Councillor’s were given an update on the Council’s approach to supporting the rural communities and the rural economy across Stafford Borough.
Stone and our surrounding villages reside within Stafford Borough and Councillors learnt that the vast majority of our rural commercial properties are occupied which is great news. This is particularly pleasing when you consider many of our rural economy continues to face tough challenges such as a shortage of labour, and many not eligible for retail, hospitality and leisure business rate relief nor small business rate relief due to the size of premises.
The report noted that Stafford Borough posted more job vacancies in the first 6 months of 2022 than any other districts in Staffordshire, with a raft of vacancies in transportation and storage, retail and manufacturing. In addition to this, our visitor economy is starting to bounce back post pandemic, as an example, it was called out that Trentham Gardens and the Shopping Village was again reporting very strong visitor numbers which were on a par with pre-pandemic visitor numbers.
Just over a third of businesses residing within Stafford Borough are based in rural areas, the equivalent of 2,000 or so businesses and the committee learnt that our rural industrial and technology parks are currently at 97% occupancy.
As Staffordshire County Council concludes its process of adopting the Rural Economy Strategy 2022-2030 which sets the local authorities’ strategic priorities to support sustainable agriculture, recover and grow the visitor economy, regenerate 5 rural ‘Hub’ towns, one of which is Stone, improve digital connectivity and stimulate innovation, the Borough Council fully intends to be an active participant and be involved with the delivery of this. The Borough Council in addition has separately identified a range of services to businesses and rural economy which it will continue to deliver, these include:
- Offering free one-to-one support to businesses looking to relocate to or grow within Stafford Borough
- Generate new enquiries for inward investment
- Build stronger links with Keele and Staffordshire Universities
- Supporting the proposed Stafford Institute of Technology by creating an employer engagement programme to ensure local skills needs are fed into the curriculum
- Developing a relationship with our ‘green’ entrepreneurs and highlighting Stafford Borough as a place for green skills and innovation
Cllr James Nixon and our Deputy Political is a member of the Scrutiny Committee Panel and noted how pleasing it was to hear the report findings and had this comment to add “back in 2019/20, the sector was worth £2.7b to the Stoke and Staffordshire Economy, it is great to hear and see the Borough Council’s determination to work alongside our neighbouring local authorities and key partners to see how we can bolster our rural economy, and support and ensure our businesses get better access to funding and skills to continue their growth”.