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Council Plan - Strategic Theme: Economy

Strategic Theme: Economy

Creating a vibrant, diverse and inclusive economy

The UK economy is reported to be growing at a faster rate in 2015 than most other European countries as it emerges from recession. In Wrexham there are clear signs of recovery with significant investment in both the manufacturing and service sectors underway or planned in the near future. It is vital that these positive signs of growth are supported and that there impact is felt right across the County Borough, with new job opportunities, increased spending on the high street and continued improvement in local infrastructure.

Priority Outcomes

The Context

The employment rate is consistent with the Wales average, but concerns remain around youth unemployment and comparatively low self-employment.

Average earnings by workplace remain lower than the Wales average although average earnings by residence are reasonably consistent with Wales and the UK average¹. The value of the goods and services produced in the County Borough² is joint fifth highest in Wales, but gross disposable household income is around the average and availability of suitable land and buildings is a barrier for attracting inward investment.

Like most urban centres Wrexham has suffered from the UK recessions and changing shopping habits resulting from internet and ‘click and collect’ shopping options.  Footfall in the Town Centre has dropped by 28.3% since 2010 compared to the national average of 20% and whilst it remains a concern, there is a lower proportion of empty shops on Wrexham high streets than in most UK towns.

The Welsh Index of Multiple Deprivation highlights the contrasts within the County Borough, with one area being one of the ten most deprived areas in Wales and another just outside the ten least deprived areas.

How this theme was developed

The priority outcomes within this strategic theme are drawn from the Economic Prosperity Strategy 2012-17.  This priority outcome also reflects the ‘Our Wrexham Plan’ theme of ‘A place with a strong, resilient and responsible economy’ which focuses on three areas – reducing poverty, engaging with businesses and promoting links between schools and businesses.

There are too many empty shops, too many discount shops and many people prefer to travel to places like Chester and Shrewsbury rather than shop in Wrexham.

Common concerns from the What’s Important Survey 2015

A 2015 survey highlighted that 60% of local people were dissatisfied with the support being given to shop owners, 41% were dissatisfied with services to reduce unemployment and 41% felt more should be done to attract businesses to the area.

¹Office for National Statistics

² Gross value added per head was £17,878 in 2012 (Regional Accounts - ONS)

E1 – People want to live, work, visit and invest here

The more people who want to build their lives, pursue their ambitions or spend money here, the wealthier the County Borough will be with a better quality of life for everyone.  We need however to build the right physical environment and the right image or profile of the area to encourage this.

We are investing in the County Borough in order to:

  • secure enough of the right land or buildings to attract high quality employment opportunities
  • capitalise on the potential of our tourism assets to encourage visitors to stay longer and spend more;
  • reduce the number of vacant/void town centre premises and increase footfall - more shoppers means more spend and more jobs; and
  • conserve and regenerate key buildings to raise the overall quality and feel of the infrastructure and public realm within the County Borough.

One of the key barriers to supporting business growth and attracting inward investment is the poor supply of appropriate development sites and suitable buildings. Currently, (February 2015) Out of a total of approximately  properties on Wrexham Industrial Estate there are 52 vacant industrial units  listed as available for rental with 15 under offer as of 13 February 2015, however these figures change on a daily basis.

One way of gauging the health of the economy is to take a walk down any high street. According to a recent national survey, the results are not good, with 14% of town centre shops in the UK currently vacant. Weak consumer confidence, and growing online sales are being blamed.  A place that is attractive to residents will also attract businesses and investment as well as be a place where tourists wish to be. It’s all about lifestyle.

We will monitor our success through:

Outcome Indicator Comparison (Wrexham 2013/14) Wrexham 2014/15 Target 2015/16
Stretch: Total value of investment in physical regeneration in Wrexham £2.36m3 £2.69m £4.5m
Improve: Town centre vacancy rate 10.5% 14% Return to 5% below the national average (currently 17.5%)
Improve: Value of visitor spend in Wrexham County Borough £96.2m4 Not yet available £98m

We will achieve this by:

  • improving the visitor experience within the whole of the world heritage site including support for the development of tourist facilities and attractions at key locations such as Trevor Basin and Chirk;
  • preserving the distinctive character of our built heritage;
  • delivering the Welsh Governments vibrant and viable places programme which includes; a masterplan for Wrexham town centre; the development of the creative industries sector; converting empty properties into homes, supporting independent living; improving standards in the private rented sector; extending the South Wrexham Housing Renewal Area; and investing in energy efficiency measures in private houses –
  • implement the recommendations contained in the Councils Strategic Asset Management Plan, (SAMP) which sets out the direction of the Economic Development property portfolio for the next five years. The Strategy recognises the issues relating to the supply of suitable premises and the failure of the private sector to intervene.
  • progress the development of the North Wales Prison on Wrexham industrial Estate, working in partnership with the project owners (the Ministry of Justice and NOMS in Wales). Construction is now underway for a phased opening from February 2017.
  • delivering the Wrexham Destination Management Plan, delivery of the Wrexham Tourism Ambassador scheme and continuous growth of the Wrexham Tourism Business club network which involves partnership working amongst public, private and third sector organizations.

3 Figures for Wrexham County Borough 2013/14

4 Figures for Wrexham County Borough 2013/14

E2 – Businesses can locate and grow here

In recent years many businesses in Wrexham County Borough have been adversely affected by the downturn in the global economy. Similarly, our own commercial activities have not been immune.  Our Business support team has played a crucial role in nurturing the local economy in Wrexham – helping businesses relocate and start up here, and creating jobs along the way.  But the focus of the team has undergone a fundamental restructuring during the last 12 months, moving it away from delivering direct business support support to enabling it.  The change is being driven by the need to reduce budgets, and the fact it will we’ll no longer be delivering various Welsh Government and European Contracts.

Whilst the team is smaller the focus will remain the same and it will continue to target an increase in The number and quality of new businesses in the county borough, encourage business investment, increase occupancy rates across commercial property owned by the council, and so on.  The change is also proving a good opportunity for us to re-energise our collaboration with other agencies, including training providers, colleges, universities, central government and other partners.  All in line with the team’s new emphasis on coordinating and enabling support for business, rather than delivering it directly.  

We will monitor our success through:

Outcome Indicator Comparison
Wrexham 2013/2014
Wrexham 2014/2015 Target 2015/2016
Sustain: No of recorded business start ups 103 67 65
Sustain: Percentage of commercial property occupied   78% 79% 82%
Minimum: Number of qualified investment enquiries5 202 347 200
Sustain: Number of recorded  businesses6 9,795 9,635 9,795
Improve: Gross jobs created 162 114 125

We will achieve this by:

  • developing close business relationships with strategically important businesses;
  • encouraging entrepreneurship, business start-ups and indigenous growth by developing tailored packages of business support;
  • providing commercial property that meets the needs of indigenous business, new start businesses and potential inward investors;
  • helping businesses and training partners identify skills gaps and work with colleges to extend the training they can offer;
  • helping businesses increase their turnover, profit and sustainability by encouraging ‘supply chain’ opportunities and links between businesses;
  • developing ‘business communities’ and encourage dialogue between firms so that they work together for mutual benefit and improved competitiveness.
  • undertaking business interventions providing advice and guidance tailored to meet the needs of the business, with the intention of creating and safeguarding jobs

5 These are investment enquiries from outside the County Borough that are not simply a general enquiry but are from an interested party with a view to relocation.

6 The data source for this indicator has changed and will now be taken direct from Welsh Government figures.  This is not comparable with the previously reported figures

E3 – People can prosper as individuals and within their communities

Unemployment in Wrexham, as measured by the number of Job Seeker’s Allowance claimants is very close to the Wales average at 2.4% of the population. Unemployment is not something we are complacent about especially in what continues to be a challenging economic climate.  Increased, co-ordinated action to reduce unemployment is required to ensure growth in Wrexham’s economy is realised for the residents of Wrexham. Youth unemployment in Wrexham has improved over the last twelve months but the claimant rate for 16-24 year olds remains higher than the Wales average. Wrexham’s approach to tackling young people who are not in education, employment or training (NEET) has been successful in recent years but targeted interventions are required to sustain and build upon this improvement.  This work reflects the Council’s agreed equality objective of reducing inequalities in employment and pay. We will work to maximise the benefit to local communities of significant structural projects such as the North Wales Prison development on Wrexham Industrial Estate, which has potential to deliver hundreds of local jobs on site, as well as through the supply chain.

Engaging economically inactive people in community activity, volunteering and community learning is a recognised route to improving employability, community spirit and cohesion, which leads to building resilient, active and prosperous communities. Our focus will be on improving quality as much as on overall growth, ensuring that progression and impact become the priorities, and develop a process that demonstrates such engagement can make a real difference in terms of economic and social wellbeing. We will engage with those members of our communities deemed to be hardest to reach in order to support their journey towards more positive economic outcomes, recognising that complex barriers need to be addressed and removed along the way. We will support and add value to the Together in Wrexham initiative, which will support the community to contribute to improving quality of life through participation in the design and delivery of local services in the county borough.

We will maintain a focus on tackling inequalities in our communities, ensuring that people can access the services they need to prosper. Digital inclusion is a key element of this focus as computers and the internet play an ever increasing role in the provision of benefits, access to employment opportunities and the purchasing of commodities and services. Access to a bank account means utilities mobile phones and other facilities can be secured more cheaply through direct-debit. Low earners in Wrexham struggle to apply for bank accounts and as a result have to pay disproportionately for the things that many take for granted. We will work with partners to define and deliver support around financial inclusion to overcome these challenges.

We will monitor our success through:

Outcome Indicator Comparison (Wrexham 2013/14) Wrexham 2014/15 Target 2015/16
Sustain: Percentage of people aged 16-64 claiming Job Seekers Allowance7 2.5% (Wales) 2.0% (GB) 2.4% 2.4%8
Sustain: Percentage of key benefit claimants (Nomis definition) 9 16.4% (Wales) 12.7% (GB) 15.3% 15.3%
Sustain: Percentage of 18-24 population in Wrexham who claim Job Seekers Allowance 10 4.4% (Wales) 3.1% (GB) 4.5% Below Wales Average

We will achieve this by:

  • identifying a way forward with our partners to both reduce economic inactivity and respond to the challenges resulting from the Welfare Reform;
  • increasing activities that encourage participation in learning and volunteering in order to increase community activity particularly in our 25 most deprived communities, specifically in maximising the opportunities through the Prison developments, the works funded through the Vibrant Viable Places Programme and the volunteering opportunities as they develop through ‘Together in Wrexham’ for local people;
  • delivering the Communities First Programme in Wrexham’s most deprived communities to support people in taking positive steps to improving their own prosperity, education and health, which collectively will improve their ability to engage in economic activity.
  • working with our partners to reduce financial exclusion through access to a co-ordinated range of services such as debt advice, mainstream banking (credit union) and support to reduce fuel poverty;
  • maximising opportunities to support economic activity in Wrexham, delivered through the social clauses in WCBC procurement with the private sector, known as Community Benefits.

7ONS claimant count – the comparison and Wrexham 2013/14 figures are quarterly figures taken from NOMIS, published February 2014

8 Target is to maintain position below Wales average for the next year giving time for Employment Strategy to be determined and have initial impact in 2015, increasing gap below Wales average by further 0.1% each year. Percentages assume Wales average stays constant, and so would need to be revised annually to serve as ‘tracker’ figures rather than absolute figures.

9 Key Benefit claimants (total claimants) taken from NOMIS.  Data used is most recently available – August  2014

10 ONS claimant count – the comparison and Wrexham 2013/14 figure is the quarterly figure from NOMIS, published February 2014