Thursday, January 3, 2013
Public spending cuts and a shake-up in welfare spending could have a dampening effect on Norwich’s economy, the deputy leader of the city council has warned.
With ministers pressing ahead with plans to cut the nation’s welfare bill and councils braced for a fresh round of cuts following the chancellor’s autumn statement, Alan Waters, said he feared that the moves could suck money out the local economy by hitting the spending power of both workers and firms.
“I am concerned by the general deflation in the local economy which is driven by the austerity measures and I am wondering what exactly all these cuts in local authority are intended to do,” Mr Waters said.
“These things aren’t separate, they are related. You need a strong and robust system of social care, if you want to have a strong and productive economy.”
However, looking back over the year, he said that the city had fared well though the economy had been buffeted by the effects of job losses and administrations including Uniglaze and the decision of hi-tech electronics manufacturing firm Syfer Technology to outsource its production work to China, with the loss of more than 100 jobs locally.
Moves to create an aviation business park at Norwich International Airport unveiled last year, and the prospect of Norwich being part of the government’s “city deals” scheme which could hand policymakers more powers if they use them to help regenerate their economy, could also boost the local economy longer term, while the creation of the Norwich Business Improvement District (BID) will also help, he said.
“Times are tough for the economy,” Mr Waters said. “Norwich’s advantage is that it’s got a proper mix of economic activity from medium sized business, such as Proxama, to the big global businesses such as Virgin, Aviva, and Marsh.
“We are all sensing that there is a retail revolution online, but the BID is a really significant gain for the city. On the other hand, we are hoping that the aviation business park will get off the ground, which will add to the diversity of the skills base in the economy.
“We want to encourage private sector investment, but we want to do that sustainably over the next 10 to 20 years and make sure funding for local government is sustainable.”
He said the council was also working well with the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), but a lack of funding was hampering both bodies from maximising local economic opportunities.
“We are working with the LEP closely and it’s working very well,” he said. “What’s universally recognised by all the players around the table is that we need far more resources to be put into the LEPs – the reality is that we need to have that properly resourced.
“We have been incredibly supportive of the City Deals initiative and I think we are still all singing from the same hymn sheet. The amount of money coming into the regions through Whitehall departments and central government is still significantly less than the amount needed.”