The geography of vibrancy: Wales

Rob Turner Rob Turner

To shape a vibrant economy, Wales needs places where people and businesses can flourish. The Vibrant Economy Index seeks to define and measure the components that create these successful areas.

In doing so, it establishes a basis from which to drive positive change and track progress in each area. By identifying places that are successful in developing vibrant economies, the index highlights ideas and approaches that others can learn from.

Rhian Owen gives an overview of the Vibrant Economy Index and the findings for Wales.

The measures included in the Vibrant Economy Index extend beyond the traditional economic measures of success to include components related to inclusive and sustainable growth (see Table 1). This provides a framework for a broader assessment of the 22 local authority areas in Wales and identifies strengths, opportunities and challenges to help people, businesses and local leaders think and act differently. It is not an assessment of the local authorities themselves, but provides a perspective on the local environment within their boundaries.

Table 1: What our Vibrant Economy Index measures 

What makes an economy vibrant?
Prosperity Dynamism and opportunity Inclusion and equality Health, wellbeing and happiness Resilience and sustainability Community, trust and belonging
We have an economy that is producing wealth and creating jobs Our economy is entrepreneurial and innovative, with a population that has skill sets that can drive future growth Everyone benefits from economic growth. The gap between richest and poorest narrows, regional disparities reduce and there are equal opportunities for all People are healthy and active, leading fulfilling lives, which provides individual prospects Our economy has a neutral impact on the natural environment, and our built environments are resilient places we want to live in Vibrant communities have a lively and creative cultural life, and a clear identity that all its people are proud of. People feel safe, engage in community activities and rust the integrity of businesses and institutions
What does the Vibrant Economy Index measure?
Prosperity Dynamism and opportunity Inclusion and equality Health, wellbeing and happiness Resilience and sustainability Community, trust and belonging
- Total GVA (£m)
- GVA per job (£000)
- Average workplace earnings (£)
- Employment in knowledge driven sectors (%)
- Businesses with turnover over £1 million (%)
- Businesses with turnover over £100 million (%)
- Foreign owned businesses (%)
- Business formation rates
- Patents granted (per 100,000 population)
- Residents qualified to NVQ 4+ (degree level)
- Share of knowledge workers (%)
- Pupils achieving five or more GCSEs at grades A*-C (%)
- Employment in higher education (%)
- Employment in research and development (%)
- Indices of Multiple Deprivation (most deprived 10% of LSOA’s)
- Inequality range
- Average income (£)
- Child poverty (score)
- Housing affordability
- Employment rate (%)
- Fuel poor households (%)
- Unemployment over five years (%)
- Working age population claiming benefits (%)
- Housing benefit claimants (%)
- Homelessness
- Unemployed inequality (ethnicity)
- Mean hours worked differential
- Sports participation
- Life expectancy at birth (male and female combined)
- Diabetes prevalence (%)
- Obesity in adults (%)
- Child obesity in year six
- Happiness (score)
- Anxiety (score)
- Life satisfaction (score)
- Life worthwhile (score)
- Air pollution (NO2)
- Waste recycled (%)
- Per capita CO2 emissions
- Energy consumption (all fuels)
- High flood risk (%)
- Total dwelling completions
- Affordable housing delivery (%)
- Valid votes turnout (%)
- Violent crimes (per 1,000 pop)
- Living alone, aged over 65 years old (%)
- Cultural amenities score
- Community asset score
- Ethnic diversity score

Across all the vibrant economy measures, Monmouthshire is the top-performing place, followed by Vale of Glamorgan, Flintshire and Bridgend. While three of the four top-ranking areas are in South Wales, the region is diverse and also holds the four bottom-ranking areas. Areas from across Wales rank in the top ten, with Powys in Mid-Wales, and Conwy and Gwynedd in the North, ranking five to seven.

Economic measures

According to our index, cities and larger towns are the domain of prosperity and dynamism and opportunity.

The most prosperous areas in Wales are Flintshire and Wrexham in the north. There is also a corridor of prosperity in the south, reaching from Newport and Torfaen in the east to Neath Port Talbot in the west.

The geography of dynamism and opportunity is however more varied, with Cardiff, Swansea, Gwynedd and Monmouthshire ranking most highly.   

Typically, there would be a correlation between these two economic baskets of measures, as the skill sets and entrepreneurialism measured in dynamism links to the number of businesses. However, here, only Cardiff ranks at the top of both lists. This raises some interesting questions around the nature and geography of 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 required to support business growth.

Societal measures

A number of the urban areas face significant challenges in relation to health, wellbeing and happiness, and inclusion and equality. These challenges are particular prevalent in South Wales, with a number of areas ranking in the bottom 20% on this basket of measures.

The high correlation between inclusion and equality, and health, wellbeing and happiness (see Chart 1) and the lack of correlation between prosperity and inclusion and equality (see Chart 2) 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. It also points to an important role for businesses in thinking through how they can improve the wellbeing of their employees and help them to live healthier and happier lives.

 The correlation between health, wellbeing and happiness and inclusion and equality - Wales

The lack of correlation between prosperity and inclusion and equality - Wales

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 these measures are spread across the country with areas such as Monmouthshire, Vale of Glamorgan, Powys and Conway performing strongly on both baskets.

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

The built and natural environment

The combination of measures within our resilience and sustainability basket points to the south performing most strongly with the five top-performing areas – Vale of Glamorgan, Rhondda Cynon Taf, Bridgend, Monmouthshire and Torfaen – all in the south. Only Conwy and Denbighshire in the north are in the top ten.

This variation is partly due to the suite of measures in this basket which – more than any others – is most 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

The Vibrant Economy Index includes trend data looking back over the past five years to indicate the ‘direction of travel’ of each area. Again, there is no common trend as to which areas are the most likely to have improved their overall scores. This partly reflects that change is driven by a very wide range of factors. A mixture of areas have improved their ranking, both from an average position to a higher ranking as well as from a low ranking to closer to the average for Wales. This is positive news and shows the opportunity for any area to change, regardless of current ranking.

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Contact us

To find out more about the Vibrant Economy Index in Wales, or to discuss the Vibrant Economy Index report in more detail, please contact Rob TurnerRhian Owen or Julie Masci.