Members received a presentation from F Kumi-Ampofo regarding the South Yorkshire economy, which continued to bounce back from the COVID-19 pandemic. The full devastating impact and social effects of the pandemic were still unfolding. As South Yorkshire was not predominately reliant upon the hospitality and tourism sectors, it had been sheltered from the worst effects of the pandemic. However, it was considered that those individuals that had previously been disadvantaged or high at risk, were now likely to be in a much worse off position.
Members noted the increase in the number of jobs that had been posted in Barnsley over the past couple of months. The smaller towns had tended to increase the number of job postings being made due to the nature of the vacancies i.e. warehouse and distribution. With the exception of Sheffield, the number of people working from home in South Yorkshire was lower than the national average. The proportion of employed individuals within South Yorkshire that had been furloughed had been much lower in comparison to the national average. Data had indicated that the region was above the national average for unemployment at 5.4% in comparison to 4.6% for the UK. However, Barnsley almost matched the national rate for unemployment. There was a significant challenge regarding youth unemployment within the region. The majority of individuals that had been furloughed due to the pandemic were now returning back to employment. However, the Bank of England had predicated approximately 500,000 individuals would not have a job to return to, once the furlough scheme had concluded. The lowest paid individuals within the economy were moving into new jobs and into new industries. Recruitment problems were being encountered within some sectors. Although there had been a decrease in the proportion of mid and low ranking jobs within the labour market pre-pandemic, this had been accelerated during the last year. A growth in demand had been encountered for the higher level skill occupations.
The pandemic had significantly impacted upon the number of people using public transport. The volume of traffic on the road network had either returned to pre-pandemic levels or was higher. Data had indicated that the emission levels had returned to pre-pandemic levels.
Members were referred to the people issues, which had been discussed as part of the Strategic Economic Plan. The challenges that had been highlighted from the data had remained and had been exacerbated by the pandemic. The data had indicated that individuals with special educational needs, free schools meals or living in deprived areas with low income levels had a much higher school absence rate. South Yorkshire had more areas of deprivation in comparison to the UK national average.
There had been an increase in the number of high street shop vacancies. However, the standalone sectors i.e. convenience stores and small shops within village high streets had improved. In comparison to the city centres, villages continued to hold a steady position in terms of the vacancy rates. Yorkshire and the Humber had the fifth lowest increase in terms of vacancy rates across the country.
Those businesses that had been able to move their processes and delivery onto an online platform had been able to adapt quicker and better to the pandemic. Focus would be given to support the smaller businesses to enable them to utilise e-commence. The demand for real estate was expected to fall more over the coming years.
In 2020, the pandemic had driven a major economic disruption which had led to a 10% contraction within the UK economy, which had been the largest observed in the UK for 300 years.
Members noted the need for a greener economy by addressing the climate emergency. There was also a need for a fairer economy for those most at risk and disadvantaged i.e. younger people, lowest paid within the society, self-employed, hospitality, non-essential retail, women, parents with young children and ethnic minorities.
Data had indicated that Doncaster was the tenth highest place within the UK where people were most likely to be pushed into debt. Careful thought was required to provide support and interventions to those most in need of help.
J Muir commented that the priorities within the Strategic Economic Plan remained valid, and the submissions that had been made to last year’s spending review and the Renewal Action Plan all contained and reflected the priorities, which would merit both scrutiny and action to the points raised within the presentation. He highlighted the need to give focus to the particular challenges to resolve the inequalities within the region that had been exacerbated by the pandemic.
P Kennan queried where the limited resources for public transport should be targeted to point to the growth opportunities, and to what extent this was being fed into the Bus Improvement Plan.
F Kumi-Ampofo commented that it was too early to determine the position through the projections. He considered that even if there was a hybrid approach to remote working, this would lead to greater problems for the districts, towns and villages in terms of the urban centres. He suggested that the Board should consider the role faced by the key urban centres. It was noted that the transport decisions would need to be facilitated to accommodate that working trend. He suggested the need to pause, to ensure that the projections were the start of a trend. He was working with colleagues in relation to the Bus Improvement Plan.
J Muir commented that the projections were based upon extrapolations, to which the Board had an opportunity to make interventions.
In relation to the trends on emissions, Professor Husbands considered that the impact of the pandemic had a massive effect on the labour market and the emission levels were starting to return. He considered that securing both a greener and fairer recovery would be extra-ordinarily difficult to secure. He suggested the need to consider whether there was a requirement for further inventions on greener and fairer issues.
K Beardsley referred to the decline in the lower skilled jobs which had been accelerated as a result of the pandemic. She queried whether all of the interventions were in place to ensure that the 18 – 24 year olds acquired all of the relevant skills that were required by employers.
J Muir commented that the largest priority was to retrain and provide individuals with the correct skill sets. He made reference to a number of jobs that had been advertised within the SCR Team, one of which had been advertised three times due to not being able to acquire the correct skill set. There was a need to raise the skill sets to match the economic demand.
Councillor Read echoed the comments made. He considered that this was a very important piece of work for the LEP, to be clear of the interventions that could be made given the resources and influences of the Board, which over time could be matched with the economic reality. He requested that the matter be brought back to a future Board meeting.
J Muir considered that the issue should also be considered at the thematic board level. He suggested that the Board should look at the green agenda and the findings of the report presented today together with some of the initiatives that had been considered at the Business Growth Board, to consider other forms of green energy and how it could deliver a substantial reduction in CO2 emissions. Members noted that some of the areas within South Yorkshire were amongst the sixth worst places of the UK pre-pandemic for air quality, together with a steel industry which contributed to over 20% of UK initiatives. He expressed his thanks to F Kumi-Ampofo for presentation given, and he wished to discuss the matter with him further off line, with a view to the Board discussing the matter on a more frequent basis.
RESOLVED – That the Board discussed the key issues raised by the presentation and considered what actions may be necessary to grow an economy that worked for everyone.