Booming borough’s tough challenges

Juliette Healey, Bank of England agent, at the Doncaster Business Conference.
Juliette Healey, Bank of England agent, at the Doncaster Business Conference.

A new business conference in Doncaster heard the borough’s economy was booming - but it suffers from a skills shortage and an image problem.

Doncaster Chamber chief executive Dan Fell said a string of major projects were boosting income and creating jobs.

The borough’s £4.4bn economy is the second largest in Sheffield City Region and grew £188m in the last five years - compared to a three per cent drop in Yorkshire and the Humber.

But he refused to shy away from harsh realities.

He told 230 business leaders, MPs and local politicians: “Every time I speak to a chamber member the mood seems bullish. But the glass is also half empty. Youth unemployment is 6.3 per cent - compared to 2.8 per cent nationally. Ten out of 17 secondary schools require improvement, or worse, according to Ofsted. And the borough is 60th out of 64 for SME growth, according to the Centre for Cities.

“Meanwhile the economy is too dependent on the public sector - where the real pain is yet to come.”

Giles Brown, of Wabtec Rail, said recruiting was their biggest problem. Of 50 new engineers in the last year, only five were from Doncaster.

George Trow, Doncaster College principal, said: “Pride in Doncaster is dramatically needed,” to combat its image problem.

Juliette Healey, of the Bank of England, said: “Doncaster has two challenges to sustain growth. The first is to improve productivity so we are more competitive. It’s getting to the point where activity has grown so much that the number of people with available skills has shrunk – we are starting to run out of people.

“Longer term the challenge is to export more.”

Full report in Business Weekly tomorrow.