Our economy is on the up
NORTH Wales has outperformed the UK and Welsh economies – although there remain sharp differences across the region. The latest economic figures have shown positive growth for the area despite the current UK political uncertainty.
Over the past year the number of people employed across North Wales has increased by 4.2% to 330,200 - compared to a 0.7% rise in Wales and 0.3% increase across the UK overall.
The employment rate at 75.7% is also higher than the Welsh average (73.1%) and that of the UK (75%).
But there are variances across North Wales when it comes to employment rates.
The best performing counties were Wrexham (78.6%) and Flintshire (77.3%) where sectors like advanced manufacturing are booming thanks to employers like Airbus.
But in Conwy the employment rate drops to 72.2% - which reflects the high percentage of retired people in the county.
The most recent GVA figures (measure of the value of goods and services produced in an area) are also positive – increasing by 4.4% – compared to 2.9% in the UK.
But the region is still lagging well behind the UK average GVA – posting a figure of £20,753 compared to £27,298.
This is also reflected in household disposable incomes with North Wales’s average £16,502 - ahead of the Wales figure of £15,467 but below the UK average of £19,432.
Ventures like the Menai Science Park on Anglesey are aimed at increasing average wages across the region.
While the figures overall are positive, there are warnings that the ongoing uncertainty and issues over recruitment could dent this growth in the future.
Debbie Bryce, chief executive officer at West Cheshire & North Wales Chamber of Commerce, said: “There are some positive signs for
the economy of North Wales with GVA growth in particular looking strong for the region, with year on year change ahead of both the Wales and UK average.
“Despite a slightly improved employment rate, businesses are facing key challenges in the labour market with firms increasingly reporting that persistent hiring difficulties, cost pressures and ongoing uncertainty are dampening recruitment intentions.
“If this trend is sustained it could well translate into a weakening in jobs growth over the next year.
“The West Cheshire & North Wales Chamber of Commerce has been campaigning for some time to address the skills shortage in North Wales through its Young Chamber programme.
“This is something which we will continue to focus on as we try to bridge the gap that currently exists between education and business.”
Cllr Dyfrig Siencyn, leader of Gwynedd council and vice-chair of the North Wales Economic Ambition Board, said: “It is heartening that confidence among businesses in this region continues to rise and that our economic position has been further strengthened by an increase in GVA and new jobs.
“Both figures are above the Wales average, and maintaining that benchmark is a priority of the Ambition Board as we look to sign Heads of Terms for the North Wales Growth Deal this summer.
“That will then enable us to roll-out the programmes and projects to reinforce these positive results, in collaboration with our partners in the public and private sector, education and the Welsh and UK Governments.”
Economy Minister Ken Skates said: “These are very positive figures for North Wales, with the employment rate now higher than the rest of Wales and the UK average and both GVA per head and average earnings in North Wales also rising faster than the UK average. They are testimony to the hard work of businesses across North Wales over what has been a time of great uncertainty for many.
“For our part, we’ve continued to implement our Economic Action Plan, supporting businesses of all sizes across North Wales through Business Wales, the Wrexhambased Development Bank and targeted Welsh Government funding as they look to prosper and expand. There is no question that there is still work to do, and still challenges ahead, but these are figures that Welsh Government and North Wales can be justly proud of, and on which I’m determined to build.”
Dr Edward Jones, lecturer in Economics at Bangor University, said: “North Wales’s economy is going in the right direction.
“The number employed in the region is increasing (up 4.2% on the year) and the employment rate in North Wales (75.7%) is greater than Wales (73.1%) and the UK (75.0%).
“Gross Value Added (GVA), which is a measures of the economy, has also increased (4.4% year-on-year change).
“This increase was considerably more than what was seen for Wales (3.1%) and the UK (3.5%).
“Despite this, GVA per head in North Wales (£20,800) continues to be below that for the UK (£27,300), which reflects the quality of the jobs produced in the region.
“Also, despite an increase in the number employed, unemployment continues to be a problem – with the number of those unemployed in North Wales increasing (2.3%).
“However, GVA is a technocratic and remote measure of an economy.
“Going forward, we should consider a dashboard of welfare indicators that are meaningful to people and reflective of inclusive growth.
“Inclusive growth entails a fairer distribution of the benefits of economic growth between individuals, and between different parts of Wales.
“Headline figure such as GVA mask an economy that is not working for the majority of the population with the proceeds of growth not being fairly shared.”
■ The Airbus Factory in Broughton, North Wales. (Right) Menai Science Park is helping to increase wages in north west Wales