Growing Wales east-west divide in downturn, BBC research finds

New research suggests there is a growing east-west split in Wales when it comes to coping with the economic downturn and cuts in the public sector.

A study commissioned by BBC Wales has found there has been some significant falls in the resilience of businesses in west and north west Wales.

The research also showed the worst performing areas were the former mining communities of the south Wales valleys.

Overall, the most resilient county was Monmouthshire.

It was followed by the Vale of Glamorgan and Flintshire, while the bottom three were Neath Port Talbot, Merthyr Tydfil and Blaenau Gwent.

The data provides a snapshot of how Wales is coping with the downturn and the UK government's austerity measures.

The research by Experian measured the resilience of each Welsh county in four different ways: business, community, people and place.

It did the same research two years ago, offering a point of comparison.

Resilience in Wales [79KB]

The resilience of businesses has been measured on factors such as the number of business insolvencies, exports and companies in strong sectors.

In the past two years, Anglesey has fallen 11 places, Gwynedd dropped 10 places, Pembrokeshire eight and Ceredigion six.

The drop in Anglesey was caused largely by a dramatic rise in insolvencies.

In contrast, there were gains for some of the eastern counties such as Flintshire and Wrexham.

There was a big rise at the Vale of Glamorgan which benefited from having high-growth high-tech sectors.

Community was measured with factors such as life expectancy and social cohesion.

There was a clear town-versus-country split in this category with rural counties like Powys, Ceredigion and Monmouthshire at the top and urban areas at the bottom, including Cardiff.

People was measured by looking at skills levels and the proportion of managers in an area.

Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan came out on top, but there was a big jump for Powys, which has seen a shift towards higher skilled occupations.

Blaenau Gwent was the least resilient in this category. Despite having a large working age population, the study found there were very few residents with high-level qualifications.

GCSE results, crime rates and the value of office space were used to measure places and, again, the Vale of Glamorgan came out on top in Wales, with Flintshire and Ceredigion bottom.

Newport saw the biggest shift in the rankings because of strong GCSE results.

Overall, many of the trends are the same as two years ago, particularly at the bottom of the tables which were once again dominated by the former industrial communities in the south Wales valleys.

Jeff Jones, a local government consultant and former leader of Bridgend council, told BBC Radio Wales that solutions still had not been found to help former industrial valleys which had been in decline for decades.

"People poured into Wales in the 19th Century to work in the heavy industries like coal mining, iron and steel," he said.

"They've all gone but the population is still there.

"The 'screwdriver' industries which came in the 1980s like Sony and Panasonic, they've all gone as well.

"We're never, ever again going to produce cheap electronics in a place like Wales - they're going to produce it in countries in the far east and eastern Europe and not a place like this - so what do we next?"

'Very vulnerable'

Sue Balsom, who runs the marketing group FBA in Aberystwyth, said Ceredigion's reliance on public sector employment and the spending of affluent retired people was coming under threat.

"In terms of quality jobs, the county is very dependent on the public sector and very vulnerable to cuts there," she said.

"There's a bit of a sense that there's worse to come, that we haven't seen the full impact yet.

"It's a very integrated society - and when you have relative affluence and employment, then people are spending in retail, on their homes, so they're employing electricians, plumbers, plasterers etc.

"These things have a knock-on effect… but it is very fragile."

Jan Green, senior lecturer in management at Glyndwr University in Wrexham, said north east Wales benefitted from its proximity to England, but added that councils in all parts of Wales could help encourage small business.

She said: "The local authority has been very flexible in its approach to business premises and new start ups, offering short, medium and long term availability which is super when you don't quite know what is going to happen in the near future".

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