Wednesday, 26 February 2014

The St Ives constituency low pay capital of Cornwall

One of the positive steps forward among councillors in Penzance at the moment is the push to have a greater say in the economy. To looks at ways we can secure European funding and investment in the area. There is a great desire to use the Neighbourhood Plan process to facilitate this. As a starting point it was decided to look at existing plans. I have been looking over the strategic document Penzance Futures, the Community Strategic Plan for Penzance Area, which was developed under the Market and Coastal Town Initiative and is available here.

The document covers a number of areas and is ground breaking in its scope. Especially considering that it involved a credible and impressive amount of consultation and was worked up in the local area.  It's a shining example of how things should be done, unfortunately though it never got implemented and has largely sat gathering dust. So it's great personally to look over it and draw inspiration from it. Generally there is a great deal that hasn't changed since it was finished although it was started in 2004 and finished a few years later. It does show some signs of age.

Here I want to look at some of the economic statistics used and compare them with the most recent figures researched and collated by Cornwall Council's Economic Development and Culture Service. Bring some of the statistics up to date and review how this impacts upon the key messages and recommendations of Penzance Futures (PZF). The economy chapter alone runs to 11 pages so, here I want to look at employment and the suggestions and data available from the documents I have discussed. Employment and particularly wages has recently been in the news, with the saddening statistic that this constituency (St Ives and Isles of Scilly) is one of the lowest earners. It is the 14th worst constituency for low pay with 38% of workers earning below the 'Living Wage'. Making it the worst in Cornwall and Devon as the Cornishman explains:

In North Cornwall, 33.6% of employees earn below the living wage, while this affects 33.3 % of employees in South East Cornwall, 31.6% in St Austell and Newquay, 31.5% in Central Devon, 30.1% in Totnes, 29.7% in Newton Abbot, 28.4% in Camborne and Redruth and 28.4% in Torbay.

This is a real issue policy makers need to grab by the scruff of the neck and actually change. Working how we are so much worse off than neighbouring constituencies and how this can be changed.

One of the key priorities identified in the community survey of Penzance Future's economy was "Quality long-term jobs with decent wages" which is hard to argue with and I'm sure still a high priority. PZF lists a Penwith overview, which states:
Average earnings are well below national average at £318 average full-time weekly wage compared to £433
It's hard to get statistics to match exact areas, CC's figures from the ONS Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings 2013 gives 2 sets of data but both for the St Ives constituency. The annual averages for all employees, with weekly figures in brackets:

UK:           £21,905 (£421.25)                100%
Cornwall:   £18,346 (£352.81)                  84% of UK avg
St Ives:      £16,397 (£315.33)                   75%

Male earnings:
UK:          £27,169 (£522.48)                  100%
Cornwall:  £21,639 (£416.13)                    80%
St Ives:     £17,593 (£338.33)                     65%

Female earnings:
UK:         £17,000 (£326.92)                   100%
Cornwall: £14,766 (£284.15)                     87%
St Ives:    £14,666 (£282.04)                     86%

Full time:
UK:         £27,017 (£519.56)                   100%
Cornwall: £22,246 (£427.81)                     82%
St Ives:    £21,381 (£411.17)                      81%

Part time:
UK:         £8,901  (£171.17)                     100%
Cornwall: £8,690  (£167.12)                       98%
St Ives:    £8,464  (£162.77)                        95%

I'm not a statistician but it's clear that it is hard to draw uniform messages from these figures. Part time workers don't have the same disparities that full time workers do. Women seem to fare better than men and although they earn less as a % of the average there is a smaller gap than other groups. But like the UK average earn significantly less than men with the average being below the Living Wage.

Men seem to be the worst off in terms of earning regional disparity, with Cornish men earning 80% of the UK average, and men in West Cornwall earn only 65% of the UK average a £10,000 shortfall and 77% of the Cornish average a £4,000 shortfall.

Over all and the biggest thing to take from it is that the St Ives constituency has lower earnings than either the UK or Cornish average. That the percentage column on the right serves to hide the disparity within Cornwall, take for example the top (All) heading Cornish workers earn 84% of the UK average and St Ives workers earn 75% of the UK average and 88% of the Cornish average.

So to revise the Penzance Futures statements:

Average earnings are well below national average at £411 average full-time weekly wage compared to £519. Useful to add, workers in the St Ives constituency earn 75% of the UK average and 89% of the Cornish average.

This is a very useful base to consider both the employment conditions of Penzance and the St Ives constituency. There are massive disparities in earnings across the UK and indeed within Cornwall. We do suffer from being part of the periphery of Cornwall and being a periphery of it too. Both distant government and distant Cornwall Council are doing little to address low pay here. It's distressing the lack of investment in this area when we are clearly slipping behind everywhere else. It's a brutal indictment of both the present system and the past and present representatives that this situation has been allowed to deteriorate. The time has come to question the apathetic status quo and call for investment and work to improve our economy.

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