A cautious welcome has been given to figures revealing unemployment levels have begun to reduce across the Herald and Gazette area.
Business leaders have greeted news that Shoreham, Littlehampton and Worthing have all registered modest falls in the number of those out of work over the past 18 months.
Despite the double-dip recession which has caused the national economy to stagnate during 2012, it appears our area is bearing the brunt of the storm relatively well in comparison with the rest of the nation.
Underlining this, Worthing and Adur were highlighted earlier this year in a survey by Experian as being one of the most enterprising areas of the country. This has seen it develop a range of innovative IT, design and media firms which have contributed strongly to the economy.
Reflecting this trend, the ONS (Office for National Statistics) latest figures show our unemployment levels remain between 2.7 per cent and three per cent – less than half the average of eight per cent for England.
The reduction in figures includes a fall from February last year to July this year in Worthing from 1,983 to 1,924 people, and in Adur from 1,099 down to 996. In Arun numbers have fallen from 2,631 to 2,160 unemployed.
However, Wendy Bell, of Sussex Enterprise has highlighted an ongoing significant issue with youth unemployment – which stands at seven per cent for the area – more than double the rest of the adult population, though still less troubling than the wider picture with one in 20 out of work.
In terms of youth figures, there are presently 545 people aged 18 to 24 claiming benefits in Worthing, representing 7.4 per cent of those able to work. In Shoreham the figures are 285 (6.2 per cent) and in Littlehampton it’s 550 people (5.1 per cent).
One of the key issues preventing the economy appearing more buoyant has been widespread instances of wage stagnation. On average salaries rose over the past year in the area by only 1.4 per cent, as against inflation in real terms, which is at least four or five per cent.
Bryan Turner, regeneration cabinet member for Worthing Borough Council, welcomed the latest ONS figures, believing our position on the south coast and proximity to Gatwick Airport had shielded the area from the worst economic woes of the recession.
He said: “It is an encouraging sign to see these figures. There’s been a lot of negativity in the media but that’s not necessarily the case. There are jobs to be picked up out there and I don’t think it’s all doom and gloom.
“We have companies like ETI which has just won a Queen’s award for Export and also in Worthing, Bowers and Wilkins speakers, which has also won a Queen’s award. Both these companies are a big part of the community.”
Mr Turner also believed the hard-hit retail sector – which earlier this year saw a number of firms close and go into administration – was also showing signs of improvement.
There are now few vacant units to be seen within Worthing town centre’s high street area, though concerns remain over traditional retailers’ ability to compete with online rivals.
Tina Tilley, of Worthing and Adur Chamber of Commerce, was cautiously optimistic about the latest job statistics.
She said: “We are seeing an indication of growth in terms of unemployment, but the confidence of being in a stable situation will only come in time.
“Though the figures show a reduction in unemployment, it does not take into account those who have taken early retirement or are partly supporting themselves through lifestyle businesses.
“There is a real need for support for start-up businesses which the chamber is trying to address through our peer mentoring and are hoping to get some financial support from the Government for this.
“The only financial support which seems to be available at the moment is for those who are long-term unemployed. There needs to be more support for growth businesses to improve their success rates.”
One area enjoying a strong uplift in its fortunes is Rustington, according to the village’s chamber of commerce president Ian Greig.
Nigel Lynn, chief executive of Arun District Council, believed there were encouraging plans for the area. He said: “Arun District Council is committed to working to boost employment in the Arun district and through the production of the draft Local Plan is seeking to implement measures to create the right environment for growth.
“We are committed to providing employment land and delivering jobs through encouraging the investment of the private sector on this land. We are putting in place a series of measures to simplify the planning process and making attractive a large section of employment land to the North of Bognor Regis, known as enterprise@BognorRegis.
“We have also recently secured employment sites through planning applications at North Littlehampton and the Morrison’s application in Wick where a condition was the refurbishment of employment space in the old Bodyshop building.”