Article - Jobs figures reveal the strength of local economy

The employment figures released a few days ago illustrate, once again, the strength of our local economy. For many months now, the unemployment rate in West Dorset has remained below 1 percent. Since it always take some time for people to switch between one job or another this rate represents something very close to full employment - a goal towards which the whole country has been aiming, but which some areas of the country less favoured than our own are far from achieving.

But there is a cloud attached to this silver lining. As we all know, many of the jobs available in our own area offer relatively low rates of pay and - even when supplemented by tax credits, leave people struggling to make ends meet.

The challenge for us in West Dorset is to generate an increased supply of well paid jobs.

Part of the solution is, of course, to ensure that our young people emerge with the kinds of skills that will enable them either to set up prospering businesses of their own or to add enough value to make it attractive for existing businesses and new enterprises to take them on at higher rates of pay. We are blessed with good, local schools and colleges - and the huge expansion of apprenticeship is now beginning to provide the training and the skills we need.

What we now need, as part of the Government's new industrial strategy is a clear-sighted plan to attract into Dorset more of the businesses of the future that can make use of skilled labour to provide high value goods and services at high rates of pay.

In a week in which George Osborne has launched a new Partnership with the northern cities to push forward his Northern Powerhouse agenda, we need to start thinking about how to infuse more energy into Dorset's economy.

Obviously, Dorset isn't going to have the same kind of industrial base as the northern cities - and I doubt whether most people living in West Dorset would want us to try to build a new Manchester or Leeds in our green and pleasant land.

But I think we should take advantage of the current moves towards the creation of a Unitary Council for the rural county to establish a new economic strategy built on the strengths and advantages that this beautiful part of the world already possesses.

There is much in a name: "Northern Powerhouse" tells you all you need to know about the character of the Osborne vision for the northern cities.

But, by the same token "Dorset Powerhouse" conveys quite the wrong impression of what we need to create - which is a high-tech, low-impact economic strategy appropriate to a rural area like ours.

I'm in the market for the right brand name if any reader of this column has a moment of inspiration.