The latest September unemployment figures have been released and show our Conservative number one priority of having a productive Staffordshire economy is working.
People in work are healthier, safer, happier and reduces the need for the services a county council provides which in turn means we can keep council tax low.
In Staffordshire there are 5,090 people claiming out of work Universal Credit benefits including Job Seekers Allowance, this equates to a rate of 1.0%, which is the same as the previous month, although Staffordshire County continues to have the lowest rate in this measure of all West Midlands Strategic Authorities.
There are 3,211 people claiming Job Seekers Allowance in Staffordshire, this equates to a rate of 0.6%, the same as the previous month when 3,271 people were claiming.
The growth in employment over the past 4 years has meant that last February there were 329,574 in employment across Staffordshire with an increase over the past year of 14,731. The picture looks even better when you remember self-employed, voluntary workers and those working their own business are not included in these figures.
With so many employed and such a small number of people claiming JSA across Staffordshire, this is good news for everyone in the county and means people are making the most of the opportunities on offer and our long term economic plan is action.
So what are we doing now and what will we continue to do? A simple answer is investment. Creating the right conditions for business to locate here, to grow and to thrive. Local enterprise of all sizes are benefitting from our £250 million investment programme in business parks, roads and transport improvements, superfast broadband and skills.
i54 South Staffordshire, Redhill near Stafford, Liberty Park in Lichfield, and Meaford near Stone, to name just a few, are now home - or soon will be - to leading international businesses. They are also examples of how the county and district councils, land owners, developers, and the Local Enterprise Partnership work together to ensure Staffordshire is a world-class investment location and alive with business opportunity.
At i54 in South Staffordshire for instance, 3,000 more jobs have been created on a site which will see overall investment of £1billion from across industry. Almost 90% of the site is now occupied.
There’s also really high demand at Keele University Science and Innovation Park - IC5 is already supporting local and new research and development companies. Demand is so high that we’ve already started to plan IC6.
There’s near full occupancy at our Redhill site in Stafford too. General Electric have reaffirmed their commitment to the town by investing at Redhill. Generations have worked at GE or under its former incarnation Alstom, and it means a tremendous amount to our workforce that it is staying local and expanding.
And there is plenty more in the pipeline. Indeed there continues to be confidence in Staffordshire as a great place to do business. We have been at the MIPIM UK event to promote our development sites as part of the Northern Gateway Development Zone - including Chatterley Valley in the Ceramic Valley Development Zone. This site provide small businesses with premises and enable the self-build and custom-build emerging markets to flourish, and stimulate a real revival in the profile of the construction sector.
Work is also now underway at Branston Locks outside Burton. This £800m investment will create 2,500 new homes, a range of community facilities and a 50-acre employment site.
The businesses we are either attracting to invest for the first time, or supporting to grow, are creating significant business for the local supply chain. They also breed confidence.
The decision by Spanish automotive supplier Gestamp – currently based in Cannock and a major supplier for Jaguar Land Rover – to invest in new facilities in nearby South Staffordshire, not only safeguards 800 jobs and promises to create many more – it illustrates our strengths as a business location. Affordable, well connected and a place where the councils, LEP and others continue to roll out the red carpet for investment that brings growth and jobs.
Beyond sites and accommodation, our £8million investment into superfast broadband, combined with £14 million from BT and £9million from the government, is really making a difference to communities and businesses outside our main town centres. A huge 95% of Staffordshire residents and business are now able to connect.
But delivering growth and jobs requires investment in people too – a strong economy and attractive business location relies on a steady pipeline of people with the right skills and training to meet the needs of business now and in the future.
Our skills team have worked on behalf of the LEP with providers across Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent to invest in Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering Skills Hubs across the area - these have helped all of us to create 5,000 apprenticeships. It represents an excellent example of what can be achieved when we all work together. i54 South Staffordshire has its own sector-based training programme which is changing the lives of local people and providing real job opportunities. Its skills and education programmes – targeted at STEM subjects and the automotive sector – have already attracted over 1,300 students.
And we are getting in early too – targeting parents from primary school age to start them thinking about their child’s future. What types of interests and skills can they nurture in their children, for instance around maths, science and technology, that will give them an advantage through their education and into the world of work.
While much of the headline grabbing work we do is focused on major employment sites and large employers, the variety of support on offer for start-ups, small and medium businesses is considerable:
• Our Business Loan Fund has supported over 170 business and has helped to create or safeguard over 1,000 jobs
• Nearly 400 small businesses operate from our 11 Enterprise Centres across the county
• The Staffordshire Business Environment Network boasts 230 members, supported to reduce their impact on the environment as they boost they profits
• Our 94 County Farms tenants are a key feature of our rural economy
• And our Trading Standards team is guiding businesses through legislation so that they can concentrate on doing what they do best
With these strong fundamentals in place, we’re now in better shape to continue growing and withstand any economic storm that comes our way.
Staffordshire is already living many of the emerging themes of the Industrial Strategy – we’re upgrading infrastructure and people’s skills and supporting innovation - and it is benefiting everyone and there is huge opportunity too for local areas like Staffordshire to influence Government thinking on future economic growth.
The job now is to build on this success story so that everybody can benefit from the opportunities that are being created regardless of their background and attract better paid skilled jobs to Staffordshire, not just jobs for the sake of employment. Other areas still have that challenge.
Philip Atkins OBE
Staffordshire County Council