Last week I welcomed Theresa May’s first six months in office as Prime Minster. I believe she is doing an excellent job, following her swift promotion into the role, she has given decisive leadership which has helped avert much market jitters around Brexit. Latest opinion polls show the public back her vision, which she amplified clearly earlier this week with her twelve positive negotiating objectives for Brexit. This support will be important as we enter detailed negotiations in the next six months to secure the best deal for Britain as we leave the European Union.
This got me thinking about comparing where we were six months into David Cameron’s premiership in the coalition government back in 2010. South Shropshire was still reeling from the effects of the recession, unemployment was high, and wage growth non-existent. In short, there was a lot of difficult work for that coalition government to grasp.
Now, fortunately (and despite some of the more gloomy headlines), the facts paint a much more positive picture about life in South Shropshire. Not only was Shropshire named one of the happiest places to live in the UK last year, but we have also seen a real economic turnaround since 2010.
One of the most remarkable changes has been the reduction in unemployment. In South Shropshire today there are less than half the number of people relying on Jobseekers Allowance and the new Universal Credit than there were six months after David Cameron became PM. Average weekly wages here are £50 a week higher than five years ago, while inflation remains historically low despite last week's increase.
This has been reflected around the country, with the last year seeing the joint highest growth in earnings since the recession. The biggest boost was to those in the bottom fifth of earners – a 6.2% increase, thanks to introduction of the new National Living Wage. I was pleased to learn from the food bank in Ludlow use fell for the second year in a row in 2016 as more people have gained the security of regular work.
Since the New Year, both the Bank of England and the International Monetary Fund have revised up their growth forecasts for the UK – and to top that all off, last week the Office for National Statistics released their latest figures showing income inequality has fallen to its lowest level for 30 years.
This is great news for people in South Shropshire. A strong and growing economy gives security to local families, and pays for public services. There are challenges ahead, particularly with Brexit. But we start the process of leaving the EU from a position of strength.
A rising tide lifts all boats, and the UK’s continued economic success is good news for South Shropshire.