Although there is constant change and improvement happening around us, it can be hard to notice it. For those of us who live in Swindon, there are also the twin risks that we might envy our neighbours or fail to look beyond the borough’s boundaries. The other person’s grass isn’t always greener, but equally others do things from which we can and should learn.
It’s why I am so keen to see the annual report by Centre for Cities as soon as it was published. This organisation provides an independent set of measures that allow us to measure Swindon alongside 62 other cities and major towns in the UK. It is interesting to compare the latest fact book, which contains information up to 2014, with the 2012 edition to see what progress we’ve made and where we still need to do more.
I am particularly pleased that the number of private sector, modern, high-skills jobs in Swindon on which future wealth depends continues to improve. In the 2012 edition of the report, we had 14,300 such jobs here and ranked 25th out of 63 towns and cities. The latest report shows 20,400 in 2014, moving us up to 8th out of 62 places.
The report also shows that Swindon is on the brink of being a high-wage, low welfare area. Average wages here in 2014 were £536 a week, the 12th highest of 63 places. Previously, this was £482 a week.
In addition to this, we have seen the number of residents with higher qualifications increase to 30.8% of the population – it was only 23.6% in 2012. Not only have we improved when compared with ourselves but we are also improving in relation to other towns and cities. In the last report Swindon ranked 45th, now we have moved up to 34th place. Of course, there is still more we need to do, but we are moving in the right direction.
The number of residents without any formal qualifications continues to decline, from 11,200 in in 2012 to 8,600 in 2014. This is just half the battle. I am keenly aware that we also need to work with our secondary schools and colleges to improve the number of pupils getting at least 5 GCSEs grades A* to C.
The Council’s Vision will build on Swindon’s successes. Through our four priorities and thirty pledges, I’m confident that our local economy will continue to improve, for everyone’s benefit.