Corporate peer challenge
North Somerset is a unitary council in the West of England, bounded by the River Avon in the north, and the Mendip Hills to the south. It covers an area of approximately 145 square miles and has a population of around 210,000 people.
North Somerset is strategically placed, close to the major cities of Bristol and Cardiff and with excellent transport links, including Bristol Airport, the M5 motorway, five railway stations on the main line to the south west and the Royal Portbury dock, which has the largest entrance lock of any UK port. It is also a beautiful area with lovely countryside and 25 miles of coast attracting over 8m visitors a year. A large part of North Somerset is classified as either green belt or an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Overall, North Somerset is a relatively strong and wealthy economy with a growing population and employment base, an attractive environment, and relatively few but persistent pockets of deprivation. It forms part of the wider West of England area which collectively generates economic output of some £25b annually. North Somerset’s economy was worth £4.1b in terms of Gross Value Added (GVA) in 2014 (AMORE model) representing 13% of the combined West of England total.
North Somerset is classified as ‘urban with significant rural’ with almost 40% of residents living in rural communities or ‘rural hub towns.’ The largest settlement is Weston-super-Mare, which with a population of 76,000 is already the third largest settlement in the West of England and with significant expansion planned, is likely to overtake Bath during the next decade.
There are three other towns: Portishead, Clevedon and Nailsea and many villages of varied size and character. The council has made significant progress in raising awareness of the strategic significance of Weston-super-Mare in the last 18 months.
The same is true of other areas but it is important to note that North Somerset’s population is expected to grow faster than the national or regional average.
It is also significant that the population is both aging and growing, creating demand pressures across the whole spectrum of services, from early year’s child care to extra care housing for older people.
The number of people aged over 85, who are most likely to have significant health and care needs is projected to increase from 6,600 to 18,300 over the same period.
Overall, North Somerset is a prosperous area, with unemployment well below the national average, (at 3.7% compared to 5.1%), and average weekly wages of £551.80, higher than the national average of £532.60, and about 10% higher than the south west average of £498.80 per week.
However there are contrasts between the north and south of the district, and in particular, pockets of significant social deprivation in central and south wards of Weston-super-Mare. North Somerset has neighbourhoods amongst the 1% most deprived in England, as well as neighbourhoods in the least deprived 1%.
Against a fragile national economic backdrop, North Somerset contributed a significant 25% of the new jobs created across the West of England between 2000 and 2014, sustaining a low unemployment rate over this period. Independent forecasts predict this strong growth will continue over the next decade and beyond.
Many residents of North Somerset commute to work in other areas, particularly Bristol, as one would expect given the geography of the area and the high quality living environment that North Somerset offers.
The local economy is however much more diverse than stereotypes of coastal communities, dormitory towns or rural communities would suggest. The invest in North Somerset brochure gives numerous examples, including high technology companies such as GE Oil and Gas, and Viper Subsea, and food and drink companies including Thatcher’s cider, Yeo Valley and Lye Cross. This diversity is also reflected among start-up businesses. The visitor economy remains significant, particularly in Weston-super-Mare, but accounts for the same proportion of jobs in North Somerset as manufacturing (c.7000 or about 8%).
The overall profile of jobs in North Somerset is similar to the national and regional picture, with the vast majority being services (85.5%). The overall category of ‘services’ includes public administration, education and health (27.8%), financial and other business services (21%), and wholesale and retail, including motor trades (15.6%).
There are 8,355 enterprises based in North Somerset, almost 90% of them ‘micro,’ employing less than ten people (similar to the regional picture). The number of businesses has risen by 19% since 2011 compared to a 12% increase for the south west as a whole.
Although performance in terms of jobs and business growth has been strong, the evidence in terms of productivity is mixed. Productivity (GVA per FTE) was £51,600 equating to 97% of the UK average (2014 AMORE model). However, comparing North Somerset to the West of England, the AMORE modelsuggests that although we have been successful in generating jobs, these have tended to be lower value in economic terms.
Education and skills are key drivers of productivity. The proportion of residents who have a qualification at NVQ 4 or above (equivalent to a degree or HND) is, at 34%, below the average for the south west (36.6%) or Great Britain (36%). The proportion of people with qualifications varies widely across North Somerset.
The proportion of pupils attending good or outstanding schools has been increasing and as of April 2016, stood at 92.5%: the seventh highest in England. North Somerset was named by Ofsted at a regional event in January as one of the three rapidly improving authorities in the south west. This is starting to be reflected in educational outcomes, particularly in early years and primary phases.
It is particularly encouraging that every school in the most disadvantaged wards in Weston-super-Mare is now rated good or outstanding, and that Weston College, which provides all post-16 education in Weston-super-Mare is also rated as outstanding by Ofsted.
A key factor has been the strength of our partnership with schools and the Strategic Schools Forum. This has meant establishing innovative new models, such as our successful Learning Exchange school improvement service, which work with the new landscape of academies and shifting funding.
Overall health outcomes are good. North Somerset is rated significantly better than the national average for 14 out of 32 public health indicators and only significantly worse for 2 indicators (skin cancer rates and hospital stays for self-harm). There are however very big differences in health outcomes between areas and also between some population groups. The gap in life expectancy for men between the most and the least prosperous wards is a stark 18.6 years.
The In North Somerset website has detailed information about businesses in the area and opportunities to invest or relocate.
For detailed demographic and needs analysis see the JSNA.
The West of England LEP website has a wealth of information about the region, the partnership and our projects.