Draft Core Strategy (incorporating Preferred Options)

Economic Prosperity

2.9 South Somerset is the largest District in the County; with over 6,000 businesses employing around 64,000 people, it has more people, employers and workers than any other part of Somerset. It has a manufacturing history and its strengths include a strong economy, based mainly on a relatively small number of large manufacturing companies in the food processing and engineering industries. A number of world-class companies are located in the District, as is an experienced workforce.

2.10 Average household income in South Somerset is only slightly lower than the County and regional average, but quite significantly lower than the national average (£434 per week in South Somerset, compared to £522 for England). The proportion of people qualified to degree level or above in South Somerset is also lower than the County, regional and national averages. However South Somerset has relatively few claimants for Job Seekers Allowance, at less than half the average for England and Wales.

2.11 The rate of new business creation in South Somerset is similar to the County average, but much lower than the national average (52% per 10,000 adults compared to 74% per 10,000 for England and Wales). On the other hand, failing business rates are lower than the national average, and new businesses have shown more resilience in South Somerset than in most parts of the County, region and country. Manufacturing is a relatively dominant employer in the District - the proportion of those employed in the manufacturing sector is almost twice the national average. This is principally because of the importance of Defence industries and expenditure.

2.12 Yeovil is the largest town and commercial and administrative centre in the 'A303 Corridor' economic zone identified in the Regional Economic Strategy. Yeovil is a major employment centre providing many jobs in aerospace and associated engineering, including around 3,500 employees at 'AgustaWestland' in the manufacturing of helicopters. Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton, 5 miles north of Yeovil near Ilchester also employs around 3,500 people. It is notable that a high proportion of jobs in Yeovil are dependent upon Government expenditure within health (Yeovil District Hospital/ Strategic Health Authority) and local government (the District Council / schools), in addition to defence spending. In recent years, the development of the "Yeovil Vision" and its complementary "Urban Development Framework" have started to address the outdated image of the town and build on its strengths and assets. Yeovil has a relatively high level of self-containment i.e. people living and working in the same settlement - one of the highest levels in the South West - although there is notable in-commuting from the surrounding hinterland. Yeovil is close to Sherborne in Dorset, both geographically and in travel time due to both towns lying on the A30 and a main rail line.

2.13 Yeovil is the prime economic driver within the District, with almost 33,000 employees (equating to almost 50% of all of the District's jobs). Whilst the town has experienced strong employment growth, which has been driven by an increase in jobs in the business and financial services sector, the scale and value of the manufacturing economy to Yeovil cannot be understated. Yeovil is one of the most significant aerospace engineering locations in the UK, although it is very dependent upon the operation of AgustaWestland. In light of this, the Yeovil Vision (see Vision section in Chapter 5) seeks to maintain the industrial base whilst growing the service sector.

2.14 With 60% of South Somerset's population living outside of Yeovil, the way in which the District's Market Towns and Rural Centres act as focal points for local employment and services, and their significance to the economy should not be underestimated. Each town has a uniquely distinctive heritage, culture and assets and global trends including climate change, the increasing cost of commodities (especially fuel) and advancing technology (broadband etc.) offer opportunities to build upon this complementary role as service and employment centres for the surrounding rural area. In addition, with the increasing technology now available, many people are able to work from home.

2.15 There are a number of business parks and trading estates across the District accommodating a wide range of smaller businesses - 86% of businesses employ 10 or fewer staff. In particular, the Market Towns of Chard, Crewkerne, Wincanton, Ilminster, Somerton, and Castle Cary provide a broad range and mix of services and facilities and act as general service and employment hubs for the more rural population as well as their own populations.

2.16 The 7 Rural Centres of Bruton, Ilchester, Langport, Martock, Milborne Port, South Petherton and Stoke sub Hamdon act as focal points in their areas for local employment and shopping, social and community activity, serving the day-to-day needs of their own populations and the more dispersed populations in the villages and hamlets in their hinterlands.

2.17 The smaller settlements in South Somerset vary widely in function and size, but generally are places that provide limited local services. Having said that, their generally small size and localised function can be beneficial in encouraging a strong sense of community and participation in local affairs but these conditions also pose challenges in terms of the economic provision of services and facilities. This pattern of settlements, and their social and economic relationships with each other, presents a real challenge in providing an equal level of service provision across such a diverse area.

2.18 Along with its many strengths, the South Somerset economy has weaknesses. Economic conditions have changed not only locally, but globally since April 2008 when the UK officially entered a recession, all sectors have been affected and as a result, growth prospects worldwide have sharply declined. Although employment in the District held up well until the onset of the recession, it will be difficult to maintain the very strong employment growth rate of recent years as economic forecasts[1] suggest that over the next ten years employment will grow at much slower rates than in the past and some further employment decline, particularly in manufacturing (an already declining sector) is likely in the long run.

2.19 The District is well placed to contribute to efforts to reduce carbon emissions by capturing a share of new markets in low carbon technologies and products. These technologies and products will contribute significantly to addressing issues of climate change and also, by developing their design and manufacture in the District, will diversify the manufacturing base, maximise supply chain linkages, strengthen the economy and provide much needed jobs.

1. Reference Ekosgen BDP Oxford Economics [back]