article banner

Sustainable growth index: Wales' top spots revealed

Rob Turner Rob Turner

Our sustainable growth index measures six wide-ranging components that make a place successful. Rob Turner looks at how different areas of Wales perform to find which areas are flourishing.

Now in its third year, the sustainable growth index forms a basis from which to drive positive change and track progress within areas. By identifying the places that are successful, it demonstrates the ideas and approaches that other areas can learn from.

The six measures included within the index extend beyond the traditional economic measures of success and provide a framework for a much broader assessment of sustainable place-based growth across the 22 local authority areas in Wales. The index is divided into six baskets:

1 Prosperity

2 Dynamism and opportunity

3 Inclusion and equality

4 Health, wellbeing and happiness

5 Resilience and sustainability

6 Community trust and belonging

Here are the highlights from our Sustainable Growth Index report for Wales.

Areas of prosperity and opportunity in Wales

According to our index, the most prosperous areas in Wales include Flintshire in the north and Cardiff in the south. There is also a corridor in the south from Newport in the east to Neath Port Talbot in the west, which includes some of the most prosperous areas in Wales.

Dynamism and opportunity is more varied, with Cardiff, Swansea, Ceredigion and Gwynedd ranking most highly.

The lack of correlation between these two economic baskets of measures – with only Cardiff ranking at the top of both lists – raises questions around the nature and geography of the future economic growth in Wales. These include understanding what sectors will drive future growth and productivity, the demography of the business base and how small and medium-sized businesses can scale, and the skills that are required to support business growth.

Happy, healthy and equal?

A number of Welsh urban areas face significant challenges in relation to health, wellbeing and happiness, and inclusion and equality. These challenges are particularly prevalent in South Wales, with a number of areas ranking in the bottom 20% on this basket of measures. For example, Blaenau Gwent ranks lowest overall in both these baskets.

The lack of correlation between prosperity and inclusion and equality – and the high correlation between inclusion and equality, and health, wellbeing and happiness – highlights the importance of looking beyond traditional economic measures when considering the success of a place. It underlines the scale of the challenge facing those responsible for place-shaping. And it points to an important role for businesses in thinking through how they can improve the wellbeing of their employees, and the role they can play in helping them to live healthier and happier lives.

It’s clear that both urban and rural places face significant challenges in relation to inclusion and equality, albeit for different underlying reasons. For example, lack of job opportunities in rural areas can create long-term unemployment, whereas in urban areas competition for jobs can make it difficult for people to re-engage if they fall out of the labour market.

The places that perform most strongly on societal measures are spread across the country with areas such as Monmouthshire, the Vale of Glamorgan, Powys, Conway and Flintshire performing strongly on both measures.

The strongest performers on the community, trust and belonging basket of measures are broadly spread, from Pembrokeshire in the west to Vale of Glamorgan in the south to Powys in mid-Wales. At the other end of the spectrum, parts of the Valleys to the north of Newport and Cardiff face the most significant challenges in relation to these measures and generally rank below average.

Wales' built and natural environment

Performance on the resilience and sustainability basket is geographically varied, with the top (Bridgend) and bottom (Torfaen) performing areas both located in south Wales.

This variation is partly due to the suite of measures within this basket that, more than any others, is strongly influenced by local authority decision-making and policy. This means that geographical neighbours within a region can see very different decisions being made in relation to housing, planning and recycling.

Long-term trends for sustainable growth

This year’s Sustainable Growth Index includes trend data looking back over the past six years to indicate the direction of travel of each area.

There is a varied geography in terms of the areas that improved their sustainable growth index score the most. It comprises a mixture of areas that have improved from an average position to a higher ranking, as well as those that have improved from a low ranking to closer to the national average.

But, overall, Wrexham had the greatest absolute increase in rank over the last six years. It rose 10 places, resulting in a shift in performance from the bottom 40% up to the top 40%.

Short-term trends for sustainable growth

There has been significant change in the top 40%, with only Powys retaining its position. It is joined by Cardiff, Carmarthenshire, Wrexham and Ceredigion. As mentioned, Wrexham had the greatest increase across all areas.

There has been no change for the areas that rank in the top 20% on prosperity. Gwynedd was the most improved nationally in the prosperity basket, moving from the bottom 20% to the bottom 40%.

For dynamism and opportunity, there was a small change in the top 20%, with just one area dropping down into the top 40% and Ceredigion moving from the top 40% up to the top 20%. Newport, the Isle of Anglesey and Torfaen all had the greatest increase nationally, improving by five ranks.

For more information about the sustainable growth index for Wales, download the report [ 1723 kb ]