Overview of sustainable growth across the South West

Rob Turner Rob Turner

There's a mixed picture in the South West. Few areas occupy the top and bottom extremes of the national index.

Out of the 36 areas in the South West, only seven areas rank in the top 20%, with Wiltshire the highest performer at 18, and only two rank in the bottom 20%. Most areas in the South West occupy the middle ground, with many scoring very close to the national average.

An area’s position on the sustainable growth index is based on its average ranking across six baskets of indicators, designed to reflect the components needed for sustainable and inclusive growth. Looking more closely at the individual baskets reveals what’s shaping the story for each region as a whole.

Dynamism stands out

The South West is generally not a prosperous place. Only four areas rank in the top 20% nationally: Swindon, Bristol, Tewkesbury and South Gloucestershire. At the other end of the scale, 18 areas rank in the bottom 20% and represent around a quarter of that bottom fifth. For dynamism and opportunity – which measures an area’s entrepreneurialism, success in innovating and the skills of its population to drive future growth – the story is more positive. Fifteen areas rank in the top 40% nationally, with South Gloucester, Bath and Bristol the top three performers in the region. The resilience and sustainability basket, which considers environmental factors such as recycling rates, air deprivation and CO2 emissions, alongside measures of resilience, including planning applications and dwelling completions, is where the South West performs much better. Twelve areas are in the top 20% nationally. Three – Wiltshire, Cornwall and Bath – rank in the top 10, and Bristol, South Gloucestershire and Swindon – in the top 20.  Performance is also stronger on community, trust and belonging indicators, with nine areas making the top 20% nationally. Two – Bristol and Weymouth and Portland – rank in the top 20.

The South West’s performance on inclusion and equality and on health, wellbeing and happiness tends to mirror the overall mixed picture on sustainable growth.  A small number of areas are in the top 20% nationally (three for inclusion and equality, and five for health, wellbeing and happiness) and a small number are in the bottom 20% nationally (one each). The rest perform at or around the national average.

A happy medium

There’s no clear pattern to the way performance is spread across the region, neither for overall sustainable growth nor for individual baskets. This means public and private sector leaders face a range of challenges. There’s clearly a need to drive economic growth, reduce exclusion and improve wellbeing. But this needs to be done in a way that protects and builds on the area’s strengths in resilience and sustainability.

Within the region, Christchurch has seen the highest increase in relative performance, increasing by 63 ranks between 2013 and 2018. South Hams also had a similarly large increase (53 ranks). The third-highest increase was in Cotswold, and although increasing by less, at 32 ranks, it has pushed it up from the top 40% nationally to the top 20% nationally.

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