The hardest thing for those trying to make things better in a city is a sense of perspective and relative measurement. How are we doing compared to others?
The annual Centre for Cities Outlook Report, like any data gathering exercise, has limits and needs interpretation. But it does shed some interesting light.
In 2015-2016 Gloucester had the fourth highest employment rate of any city: over 80% of us are working, with a very high (6.7%) increase. In fact we had the second fastest increase in business jobs of any city in the country: 2,100 more jobs in that year alone. For me that’s critical. We’ve always had a very high ratio of public sector jobs but our economy is more balanced now, with the ratio of business to public sector now of 1.8 or 41,000 to 23,000.
This is all very good news, and takes us closer to what economists would say is full employment. Our next challenge is to increase the numbers of those with disabilities in work. Our county does well overall on this, but there is more we can do in the city, and there are skills available that employers should look at more. Forwards (based in the county council) leads co-ordination on this.
Gloucester was also the 10th fastest growing city by population, and 7th for the fastest growth in housing stock – building homes to meet increased demand. I know we need more homes, more affordable homes and more 1 and 2 bed homes. New housing is coming through in different places, both in the city centre and suburbs, and there is much more to come – while still keeping our precious green lungs.
There are a couple of areas to work on. We come fairly low on export revenue per worker (third quartile), and I suspect this reflects a mix of some strong exporters but many SMEs who aren’t yet exporting at all. Our skill levels are improving – those with no formal qualification are down to 8.1% (national average is 8.8%), but we can do much more on skills.
Which is why the relocation of the University’s Business School to Gloucester, offering nursing degrees and nursing associate higher apprenticeships from the University, the apprenticeships at GlosCol, GET, Prospect and SWAP matter hugely. As does our goal for a University Technical College. There is no point trying to increase our control of immigration unless we can train our own young for the jobs we have available, like nursing, and especially the 50,000 jobs in the county’s health sector.
The Centre for Cities latest report is a good one for Gloucester. Like any school Head’s report there’s room for improvement, and there always will be. Skills, productivity and exports stand out for me. We have plans on all and must make sure they come through. A good result from our Growth Fund bid would help, as would government approval of the world’s first tidal lagoon and local planning approval for our University’s plans. It’s all about keeping good momentum going.