4. 2a - Prosperous local economy
"The City of Exeter is the most significant urban asset in the region. It is uniquely placed to attract innovative businesses and high skilled workers. The challenge is not only to unlock this potential but to enable a new path creation that can stimulate growth in neighbouring and peripheral areas.
Exeter has many strengths which indicate the capacity for future development and growth. However, here are a number of key challenges which must be addressed, if the city-region is to maximise its economic potential."
Devolution for Exeter and the South West - A ResPublica Report for Exeter City Council (March 2021)
Exeter has faced economic challenges over the past couple of years, due mainly to the impact of Covid-19.
Around 30,000 (30%) of Exeter’s workforce were furloughed. Universal Credit claimants peaked at 4.2% in May and August 2020, the first time this had been more than 4% since May 1997. The numbers dropped to 2.2% in April 2022 and, whilst not yet back to pre-pandemic levels, those claiming often face a range of complex barriers preventing them from entering the labour market.
Job vacancies remain consistently high across the city and wider area, with around 3,000 vacancies within a 5 mile radius of the city. Vacancies far outweigh the number of people searching for work. Employers are reporting recruitment problems and the nature of the labour market drives up demand for skills and salaries.
Our young people have experienced a particularly difficult time, with those aged 16-24 considered to be most impacted by the pandemic. The number of young people claiming Universal Credit in Exeter more than doubled between February and August 2020. Our schools have also worked through challenging times, adapting to home learning, virtual work experience and the cancellation of exams. Supporting them and our young people as we move on from the pandemic will be crucial to developing our future workforce.
Footfall within the city centre dropped dramatically during lockdown periods. It is now recovering, remaining 5% down on 2019 levels, but in a significantly better place than both the South West (18.6%) and UK (22%) averages. It is estimated that 35 weeks of retail sales were lost from March 2021 to September 2021, and there were approximately 45 retail closures within Exeter during 2020/21. Whether pre- pandemic footfall levels will be achieved remains to be seen, particularly in light of new ‘hybrid’ working arrangements being adopted across a number of businesses.
The biggest economic transformational opportunity for Exeter and the region is to realise the economic impact of having some of the world’s leading experts on climate sciences based in Exeter. Supporting the University of Exeter in its plans for a Net Zero Plus Innovation hub, preferably located in the city centre, would support regional businesses and organisations with their climate and environment action plans.
It should attract start-ups and entrepreneurs to the region, providing skills development for green and digital transformation and building the South West into an international leader in climate action, biodiversity and natural capital. Work on the Civic University Agreement will align ambitions for Exeter to be a globally significant location for addressing the challenges of climate change.
- Retention and recruitment, with some difficult-to-fill vacancies, which is stifling business growth.
- A rise in residents becoming economically inactive, particularly those in the 50+ age groups.
- Matching the learning and skills opportunities for residents with current and future job opportunities.
- Low levels of graduate retention from the University of Exeter.
- Levels of aspiration amongst our young people and limited awareness of opportunities.
How we will address this priority - headline actions
- We will launch a Net Zero Plus Innovation Hub for the South West, supporting regional businesses and organisations with their climate and environment action
plans. We will attract start-ups and entrepreneurs to the region, providing skills development for green and digital transformation and building
the South West into an international leader in climate action, biodiversity and natural capital.
- Capitalise on St Sidwell’s Point leisure centre as a catalyst for regeneration.
- Launch and implement the revised Exeter Skills Strategy.
- Publish a new business plan for Exeter Works, including a one-stop shop for business engagement.
- Develop partnerships with the University of Exeter (Civic University Agreement), Exeter Chamber and city organisations, to provide training and to support high-growth potential businesses and start ups.
- Launch Empowering Girls to raise the aspiration levels of young girls in our schools.
- Support our most excluded residents to participate in economic and civic life moving them into learning, work, training or volunteering.
- Raise awareness of internships, mentoring, graduate placements and permanent positions to retain talent.
- Launch a revised City Centre Strategy addressing changes in shopping, working and travel habits.