Agenda item

Economic Impact of the Recession in Breckland (Agenda Item 6)

To receive a report and presentation.

Minutes:

The Economic Development Manager introduced two members of his team, Dan Cox - Economic Development Officer and Lindy Warmer - Senior Economic Development Officer. 

 

Members were handed a copy of the latest Economic Development Bulletin which provided an up-to-date comparison of unemployment trends and causes and the steps taken to address them, along with local media items.

 

The Economic Development Officer explained that the most accurate economic indicator was the level of unemployment.  Members were given a PowerPoint presentation including a graphical comparison of the impact of recession on the economy.  Breckland’s figures had shown a slight recovery and had then stabilised whereas other areas locally, regionally and nationally had continued to decline.

 

The claimant count (for Job Seeker’s Allowance) had not increased and Breckland was doing better than other areas by comparison.  The UK average was 4% and Breckland’s average was 2.8%.

 

There was no doubt that the recession had had a negative effect on the area causing a number of closures and significant redundancies.  However, some companies had experienced growth and taken on extra staff and a number of businesses had moved into the area, bringing jobs.  As Breckland had relatively few registered large companies, the closure impact had not been as great as in some areas.

 

The Economic Development Manager explained that they were running a number of projects to help provide a platform for future growth.  These included REV Active which advised companies on how to reduce costs by energy saving methods and the BELA scheme which provided up to £500 to support small businesses.

 

The team were also involved in the Moving Thetford Forward project which included a new bus interchange, town centre development, a skate park, the Riverside regeneration project and the sustainable urban extension.

 

The Snetterton Utilities and Snetterton Heath would provide significant employment growth in the future.  A planning application for a biomass plant was currently under consideration and if successful could provide enough power for around 65,000 homes and businesses.

 

The team were also working closely with education providers to facilitate apprenticeships.

 

With the impending improvements and dualling of the All there were many businesses planning to grow and investing in the future.  The team were being very pro-active to focus limited resources on supporting businesses.

 

The Economic Development Officer concluded by saying that it was very difficult to forecast the economic future but the team would continue to seek funding to develop projects.

 

Mr W Richmond asked for clarification of the percentage of claimants for Job Seeker’s Allowance aged 16-24 and the Economic Development Officer agreed to provide him with those figures.<1>

 

With regard to the dualling of the All, Mr Joel asked what was being done to encourage businesses into Breckland.  The Economic Development Officer advised that there were a number of employment sites earmarked for development and they had a Task & Finish Group which met regularly.  They were speaking to developers about a marketing strategy.  Once building work began more work would be done to promote the area.

 

The Economic Development Manager advised that they had been working for the past four to five years to establish the Rural Enterprise Valley and it was now a recognised brand at County and partner level.  They aimed to attract businesses, jobs and investment into the area.

 

The Senior Economic Development Officer explained that they were working with the Economic Development Officers’ Group, UK Trade and Investment and the County Council.

 

Mrs Irving asked what firms were offering apprenticeships and whether they were skilled or unskilled. 

 

The Senior Economic Development Officer responded that there were not enough firms offering positions.  The West Suffolk College had 800 apprentices, many in construction and engineering, but there was not enough work to keep them employed.  She confirmed that the team did talk to businesses about apprenticeships. There were Government schemes which provided funding and an option to train apprentices without actually having to employ them.

 

The Economic Development Officer advised that on new developments in the area, and particularly the Sustainable Urban Extension they were working with the construction industry to ensure that apprentices were taken on in all fields as part of the development.

 

Mr R Richmond was encouraged by the number of apprenticeships in the East of England as he thought it was the way forward for growth.

 

Mr Bambridge asked how many jobs there were in Breckland and whether it was possible to find out how many people were unemployed who were not in receipt of Job Seekers Allowance.

 

That information was not available.  The Census would provide more details but they would not be available until June/July 2012.

 

The Vice-Chairman asked if there were any figures available for the number of enquiries received by the BELA scheme.  He was concerned that there was a lot of work involved in applying for a relatively small grant.

 

The Senior Economic Development Officer advised that it was a simple application form which required the support of a business case and financial forecast.  If applicants found it difficult to complete the form, help could be provided.

 

The Vice-Chairman also mentioned the Mary Portas report and asked if the Economic Development team would be able to provide help to any areas that wanted to apply for grants.  The Economic Development Manager confirmed that the team had a lot of bidding expertise and could provide help.

 

Mr Rogers asked if there was any development planned along the A1075 as there had been lots of houses built in Watton and Carbrooke.

 

The Economic Development Manager advised that they worked on initiatives to benefit the entire area, but had limited resources which had to be targeted at opportunities to realise maximum outcomes. 

 

The Chairman noted that Attleborough was another area with substantial growth but no infrastructure.  He thought it was a shame that more was not done to support the places that had already received significant residential development in areas of very little employment.

 

The Senior Economic Development Officer said that the team were working on Rural Enterprise Zones and had put Watton and Attleborough forward to DEFRA for funding.

 

The Chairman had attended a meeting where concerns had been raised by the local Parishes of Quidenham, Eccles, Shropham and Snetterton about the lack of consultation they had received regarding the REV Active project.  The Economic Development Manager agreed to take those comments on board.

 

The Executive Member for Assets & Strategic Development concluded the presentation by saying that he had attended a ‘Roots for Growth’ meeting at which seven Members of Parliament and the Chairman of the England Chamber of Trade had been present.  They had all been optimistic about the economy.  He agreed that it was not all doom and gloom.  Breckland was not doing too badly and the Economic Development team were doing their best.  He was keen to pilot a forum of businesses and educators to discuss the skills needed and to see what could be done to make young people more employable.

 

The Chairman thanked the Executive Member and Officers for their presentation.

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