[C]elebrating Eden District as a great place to do business and planning for its economic future were the key themes of a dinner attend by 130 guests from the local businesses community last night (Thursday 7 June 2018) in Penrith.
The dinner was organised by Cumbria Chamber of Commerce and Invest in Eden (Eden District Council’s Economic Development Team) and held at the North Lakes Hotel and Spa. The guest speaker for the evening was the Rt Hon Lord Henley, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State within the Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy.
Eden District Council’s Leader, Councillor Kevin Beaty spoke at the event about the Council’s forthcoming Draft Penrith Masterplan, he said: “I was delighted to welcome so many representatives from leading businesses in Eden to the dinner and to share our ideas for growing the economy of Eden over the next 30 years.
“We want the District to prosper and grow and for residents to benefit from a higher wage local economy. We can do this by supporting and encouraging existing businesses here to expand, by attracting new investment and ensuring the foundations are in place to sustain the economy in the long-term.
“The dualling of the A66 between Penrith and the A1, potential transport infrastructure developments around Penrith and the anticipated investment in new nuclear power generation on Cumbria’s west coast are all opportunities which Eden District is well placed to benefit from. We are fully committed to developing and strengthening Eden’s economy so that our communities and businesses thrive. We will achieve this by working with our partners to develop, agree and deliver a shared vision for the future.”
By develop a long-term sustainable vision for the future of the District, the Council can address some of the area’s key issues.
One of the biggest is an ageing population, which means Cumbria’s available working-age population is projected to fall by 9.5% by 2030, so the labour market is only going to get tighter.
This coupled with a low wage economy locally and low levels of unemployment mean it can be difficult for local businesses to fill job vacancies. Especially when there is also a shortage of housing and average house prices in Eden are 9.35 times average earnings, the national average multiple is 7.7.
Rob Johnston, Chief Executive of Cumbria Chamber of Commerce, spoke at the dinner about the challenges Eden’s economy faces and how these can be addressed. He said: “Eden Council is to be congratulated on its foresight in developing a Masterplan for the future of the District. The Council has acknowledged that you must provide infrastructure to support a larger population.
“Solutions such as delivering high-quality affordable housing as part of the Draft Penrith Masterplan can help to attract dynamic, ambitious younger people to Eden District in the future, some of whom will go on to launch businesses and so boost the prosperity of the area. It’s a virtuous circle. We know too from work done by Professor Andrew Atherton at Lancaster University that there is scope to attract service businesses looking to relocate from London because of the high costs of doing business in the capital. There is real opportunity if we get this right.”
“It’s absolutely right that the Draft Penrith Masterplan will go thorough public scrutiny before it is adopted, but full marks to Eden for grappling with this issue and not burying its head in the sand. We think it’s a model that other local authorities can adopt – and they will have to given the demographic challenge Cumbria faces.”
The tight labour market in Eden has prompted some employers, notably Center Parcs, to bring in workers by bus from Carlisle or West Cumbria. It is a headache for businesses such as Cranstons. The food retailer employs 90 people at its processing site and two retail outlets in Penrith.
Managing Director Philip Cranston said: “We make pay rates as good as we can and we look after our people, but when we advertise vacancies it’s not a question of how many will apply, it’s a case of will anyone apply.
“We’ve had staff who’ve worked for us, then bought a house in Carlisle because it’s cheaper there – then they find a job in Carlisle and we lose them. We try to be flexible, offering the option of part-time working, but recruiting part-time staff can be harder than finding full timers. Recruitment is a big issue for us. It means we have to look at ways of growing the business without increasing staff numbers.”
Average earnings in Eden are below the national average – as they are in all parts of Cumbria except Copeland – and Eden is keen to generate more high-skill, high-wage employment to bring the average up.
That means attracting businesses like Atlantic Geomatics, the geospatial surveying consultancy based in Penrith with clients across the UK and abroad.
Managing Director Oliver Viney said: “It’s difficult to attract skilled, experienced people to move here to come and work for us. So we decided four or five years ago to recruit at trainee level and grow the business organically with local people. That’s enabled us to double our turnover in the last five years.
“Around 80% of our clients are outside Cumbria and we are considering opening a satellite office elsewhere to help generate more work, but we will always remain a Cumbrian business.”
For more information about the economic development support available from Eden District Council visit www.investineden.co.uk or call 01768 817817.