A focus on new business and skills: How Doncaster is turning around its economic fortunes

The 2016 edition of our Good Growth for Cities series highlighted Doncaster as one of the fastest improving cities in the index. In this blog, we look at the initiatives put in place to bring about this improvement.

In the most recent edition of the Demos-PwC Good Growth for Cities Index, Doncaster was one of the top five cities showing an improvement in its score. This was driven by the largest increase in both new businesses per head and skill levels of young people seen across all of the cities covered by our analysis. Over recent years, Doncaster has directly targeted these areas with local initiatives.

Continuing Growth in new businesses

New businesses have been established within Doncaster at an increasingly rapid rate. Our analysis has found that, on average, 53 businesses were established for every 10,000 people each year in Doncaster between 2014 and 2016. This is nearly double the same figure between 2010 and 2012. The extent of this recent positive trend can be seen in Figure 1, which compares the trend in new business creation in Doncaster with that in a sample of its peers (the cities in our Index with most similar scores in 2005-07).

Figure 1: Period on Period growth in new businesses per head (2005-07 = 100)


A local approach delivering results

So what has enabled Doncaster to generate its recent momentum? Over recent years, local initiatives have been introduced in Doncaster to develop the attractiveness of the city to business, and to improve local skills.  These initiatives have coincided with significant improvements in both areas.

The 2013 launch of the Doncaster Economic Growth Plan outlined key measures to promote new business. Measures aimed to increase inward investment by improving response times to planning decisions and increasing the stock of modern industrial and office premises. Policies to support start-ups were also outlined, offering access to start-up advisors and mentors with established local businesses.

How effective has this plan been? Beyond the headline result of increasing numbers of new businesses, a 2015 review of a pilot scheme to encourage inward investment identified over 535 jobs were expected to be created, with initial investment reaching over £21 million. This is equivalent to approximately a sixth of all jobs created in Doncaster between 2013 and 2014.

Skills amongst young adults have also been directly targeted by Doncaster Council. For instance, 2013/14 saw the launch of the “Skills made easy” programme, supporting businesses to take on 130 new apprentices.  In 2015 the Doncaster Skills Academy was launched, enhancing work prospects for local students. These polices coincided with Doncaster achieving the largest increase of any major UK city in skills levels for 16-24 year olds in the 2016 Good Growth Index. Of note, skills is also a major topic for discussion at the People's Powerhouse Convention, hosted in Doncaster and addressing issues across the Northern Powerhouse.

The routes used by Doncaster to achieve economic growth are in line with the strategic priorities outlined at a national level in the recent Green Paper on Industrial Strategy. Both improving skills amongst young people, and ensuring conditions to support business start-ups, innovation and growth were outlined as key pillars of this strategy and are likely to feature in the development of the proposed local industrial strategies.

Doncaster has more to do to deliver its economic transformation. But through investing in a strong skills base and creating a positive environment for new businesses, there is a substantial opportunity to deliver further place-based growth and improved urban wellbeing.

Read a new blog from Doncaster Chamber of Commerce CEO Dan Fell here to find out more. 

Vince Goode | Economics, Strategy&
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Nick C Jones | Director, Public Sector Research Centre
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