Colin Everett, Chief Executive at Flintshire County Council, on the strengths driving the county’s prosperity.
Flintshire is part of Wales and very proudly so, but we’re also a border county with a positive attitude to being part of a cross-border economy – within the UK and internationally. There's a considerable daily flow of workers to and from Cheshire, the Wirral and the Liverpool and Manchester conurbations. Our proximity to North West England – and our formal partnership with the region through the Mersey Dee Alliance – help make Flintshire one of the most prosperous counties in Wales and rank first for prosperity on the Welsh Vibrant Economy Index.
We also see ourselves as part of North Wales. If you're a business looking to grow and trade in North Wales, your connections are west/east rather than north/south. This extends to benefiting from the link to Ireland through Holyhead, and from road and rail links to North West England and the Midlands.
So our position and our progressive, outward-looking approach makes us an attractive location, whether in terms of quality of life, as a base for employers or inward investment potential.
A sense of place
Flintshire is made up of seven principal county towns. The county is also a mix of industrial, coastal, urban and semi-rural places. These characteristics, with a settled population, mean there’s still a definable sense of community that’s place-based, shaped by history and culture, and with hallmarks of being Welsh. These are strong, positive characteristics.
We see this reflected in many businesses having good corporate values and being active within communities, including liaising with schools, running skills programmes and bringing out-of-work people into work. Often these are SMEs with a strong relationship to the particular place where they’re located. Their contribution to inclusive growth – helping ensure that everyone benefits from prosperity – has important social value. It supports Flintshire ranking third for inclusion and equality on the Welsh Vibrant Economy Index.
Building on our strengths
The county’s economic strength owes much to a very strong manufacturing base – over 30% of all jobs are still in manufacturing. We've got a number of international blue-chip companies, so the quality and attractiveness of the work opportunity, and GDP, is comparatively high. Aerospace, in which Airbus is now the leader, has had a presence in Flintshire since the 1930s. Building on this, we're seen as a top performing location in advanced manufacturing in the UK. We're also a noted alternative energy provider. By capitalising on our sector strengths – aerospace, automotive, digital and food – and their strong supply chains and subsectors, we’ve been able to remain resilient in the face of wider economic decline.
Alongside these major, established businesses, we’re also a highly entrepreneurial economy, characterised by many small and medium-sized enterprises. This stems from the decline of the steel and traditional industries in the 1980s, when the area responded by using its geographical location, connections and skills to capitalise on government-led investment programmes around industrial estates.
As a council, we reflect this. We’re determinedly pro-business. Our planning policies are designed to support businesses looking to expand and we’re good at supporting businesses seeking to secure growth funding from the UK and Welsh governments. Our enterprise zone in Deeside is the outstanding performer among Wales’ eight enterprise zones – We have created, safeguarded and assisted over 6,500 jobs since it started1. We also have exciting plans for a major brownfield industrial site in the county, Northern Gateway, which is under development.
We are also co-leading the North Wales Economic Growth Bid which aims to secure a £1.3 billion investment in the region’s economy. The bid is part of a 15–20-year growth strategy for the whole of North Wales. We're just reaching heads of terms agreement with Governments, with a bid focused on advanced manufacturing, energy, and digital and creative industries. Flintshire's strengths provide a good counter-balance to the strengths in the other parts of the region. These include tourism and adventure tourism, agriculture, some of the traditional industries, technology and, in Anglesey, a world-class nuclear industry that's developing around the Wylfa B power station.
As we work at building a vibrant economy, by far the dominant item on our agenda is the year-on-year reduction in local government budgets. As well as finding funds to protect the services that keep communities alive, we also need to invest to develop our economy and support infrastructure.
Given the budget pressures, we've been working with communities to get them to take ownership of assets, such as leisure facilities and community buildings, and generate an income from them. Flintshire has 34 town and community councils – a large number for a relatively small geographical area. Many are involved in social enterprises and heritage schemes, while the bigger ones have taken on a town centre management role to protect the local retail offer.
Another important challenge is around labour supply. We've got a regional skills strategy to tackle skills gaps that could threaten the industries that make us strong. However this is a region that’s not too far from full employment. So, there’s the challenge of servicing the growth we're planning. For example, if we launch a new transport or housing scheme, does our relatively modest construction sector have enough capacity to win the contracts? Can the local workforce be supplemented by migrant workers? Following Brexit, will European workers still be able to work here – and will they want to? The impact on our local economy is yet to become clear.
Despite these challenges, we’re confident about the future. Our border county has many advantages and we’re determined to capitalise on these to keep our economy vibrant.