After tipping fairly steeply into recession in 2008, the UK economy has been walking a fine line between recession and recovery ever since. But, as we showed in our latest edition of Cities Outlook, not all cities have mirrored this national trend, Swindon being one such city.
With a massive four jobs in the private sector for every one job in the public sector, Swindon felt the pinch early on in the downturn as the private sector contracted. This was due in part to the loss of 450 jobs at a Woolworths’ store and distribution depot in the city and reduced production at Honda which caused local job losses in the supply chain. As a result, from 2008 to 2009 the share of people claiming Job Seekers Allowance increased by 50 per cent more than the UK average.
During the second half of the downturn the city’s fortunes began to look brighter. The low share of jobs in the public sector meant that, whilst other cities were hit by public sector spending and job cuts, Swindon was relatively shielded. And as Swindon’s private sector began to stabilise the claimant rate fell nine times faster than the UK average. The housing market also saw a recovery; average house prices increased seven per cent from 2009 to 2012.
Figure 1: The impact of the downturn on Swindon
Source: NOMIS Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings workplace-based analysis, DCLG, Office for National Statistics Business Demography, NOMIS Claimant Count
So where next? Swindon’s immediate prospects are mixed. In the private sector, while some of Swindon’s firms are expanding – BMW has committed to investing £250 million in Mini production – others are contracting – Honda recently announced 800 job losses. But over the longer-term the city’s low dependency on the public sector is a positive; as ever diminishing budgets lead to further cuts in public services and jobs in many of the UK’s other cities Swindon will relatively protected. And it’s relatively large private sector means it is well placed to support future private sector jobs growth.