There are many ways of judging the performance of Swindon’s economy. The obvious criteria – things like employment statistics and retail figures – are all looking positive, and have been for some time. But it’s also important to look at some of the factors which don’t always make the headlines, but which economists regard as equally important. One example is productivity. Crudely, this is the amount we each produce per hour at work. It doesn’t mean just physical products, but also how much each worker in an office or service role contributes to the local economy. Everyone with a job plays their part.
The Office for National Statistics has just released a major survey of productivity across the UK. I’m delighted to say that Swindon was very near the top of the national league table. It’s perhaps no surprise that London has the highest productivity in the UK, with the lowest being in remote areas such as Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. But many commentators were surprised that Swindon scored so highly. They should not have been.
Swindon has always had a proud tradition of hard work, enterprise and innovation. Recently our town has become adept at reinventing itself as a home for new high-tech industries. The other significant factor is that many international businesses and foreign companies are investing here, bringing higher productivity levels. We think immediately of the Honda car plant, but Swindon is home to many other skilled productive jobs, both in British and overseas companies.
The key here is investment. I continue working to help secure new investment for our town by connecting potential new employers with Forward Swindon and UKTI – two organisations tasked with bringing new jobs to Swindon and the UK respectively. But of course this only happens because the UK economy is going through a sustained period of growth. The government’s long-term economic plan is putting the foundations in place, but none of it would be possible without the hard work of so many people in Swindon – as the recent productivity figures have so clearly shown.
One obvious example of increasing investment in Swindon is the project to electrify the Great Western main rail line. Our town is rightly the headquarters of this huge scheme, with the so-called High Output Operation Base acting as the hub. In effect, it is the nerve centre of the project, and also houses all the material and equipment. On its own, the HOOB represents an investment of about £6 million in Swindon, with the whole electrification worth a great deal more. I’m visiting the Base on Friday, and looking forward to seeing first hand this impressive project. It represents another significant boost for our town’s growing economy.
(This article was originally posted in the Swindon Advertiser on 4th March 2015)