Manufacturing is a key component of Staffordshire’s economy, employing almost 58,000 people. This accounts for just over 13% of the region’s workforce and is higher than the UK average. Stoke-on-Trent has a well-known and established history as the United Kingdom’s centre of ceramics. Ceramic materials expertise in the region is significantly higher than that of anywhere else in the UK, with almost 8,000 people employed in the sector (4% of the Stoke-on-Trent workforce). Ceramics manufacturing contributed around £285 million of GVA to Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire’s economy in 2014.
Established in 2011, the Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Local Enterprise Partnership has a vision to create 50,000 jobs and increase the size of the region’s economy by 50% by 2021 over a 10-year period.
Stoke starts from a low-base. As this scatter chart from the Centre for Cities shows, Stoke is among the worst-scoring cities in the UK for both GVA per worker and number of knowledge-intensive businesses (see Centre for Cities data-tool):
Nonetheless, over the past 7 years Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire have seen strong growth to their economy with an increase of 18% (GVA growth), alongside a growth in employment by 12%. Since 2011 the region has also seen a 40% increase in new business creation.
In the LEP’s 2016 annual report, Business and Professional Services, including the Digital and Creative sector, were recognised as being a key area for growth. In the LEP’s 2018 annual report Digital Technologies was listed independently of the Business and Professional Services as being a key sector of importance in the region. The sector is recognised as being of increasing importance to all sectors, and the LEP noted growth in the local area, particularly around key employment sites including Stoke Business Park, Stafford Technology Park and Dunston Business Village. As well as creating increased employment opportunities, continued growth in this sector will support local companies’ implementation of digital technologies.
The focus of the study-visit was the potential of the digital screen sectors as the drivers for economic development and growth. Working with Platform – the network agency for the Moving Image cluster in the area – a day of visits, presentations and discussions was devised, placing a strong emphasis on film, media and technology-and-research driven business. This included a tour of Staffordshire University’s impressive e-sports and motion-capture studios, as well as visits to and discussions with a range of creative and digital businesses. Students at the University made this film of the day.
A fuller report of the Study-Visit has been prepared for the Creative Industries Council; by way of summary, a number of areas of ‘learning’ can be highlighted here. As well as being relevant to our study-visit to Stoke, these insights should be applied to the Smaller Cities project more broadly.
- Universities are central to a local skills, business and innovation strategy – but as HE funding comes under pressure, competition between universities, and between universities and FE institutions, is likely to intensify, meaning that it will become ever more important to foster collaboration and complementarity between them
- A range of impressive initiatives is not the same as a coherent strategy or programme
- A sense of pride and identity in a city risks leading to a cosy familiarity rather than a genuine commitment to overcoming challenges to growth and development; optimism and confidence can easily tip over into complacency
- Cities need to look beyond their borders – understanding supply chains and regional connectivity; city-to-city trade requires a coherent ‘export policy’, especially if smaller cities are to establish distinctive specialisms as part of a cluster strategy
- Looking forward can reflect ambition – but not acknowledging the past (and the present) might result in an unconvincing narrative about the future.