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'Wycombe had weakest economy in UK before recession'
WYCOMBE suffered the worse job losses anywhere in the country during the boom times, before recession hit, a report says.
Between 2004 and 2009 18,000 jobs were lost - 17.1 per cent of employment.
But bosses at Wycombe District Council were unaware of the situation until 2010, the economic report found.
The report said: “This is the weakest performance of any local authority district in Great Britain.
“Over the same period Chiltern and Aylesbury Vale lost 4.8 per cent and 1.2 per cent of jobs respectively.
“South Bucks added 2,000 jobs or 5.7 per cent and total employment in Great Britain rose by 0.8 per cent.”
The outlook now is still gloomy according to the group of councillors who have undertaken a detailed study on the district's economy.
The Employment and Economy Task and Finish Group reports that total employment in Buckinghamshire is not forecast to return to pre-recession levels until 2015 and in Wycombe not until 2018.
The review group, headed by Conservative Cllr Roger Colomb, identified various reasons for the poor performance.
House prices were on average £50,000 higher in Aylesbury Vale during this period, making it harder for potential firms to attract the staff they needed.
Between 2004 – 2008 the council's focus was on the Eden Shopping Centre and “insufficient attention was given to developing actions to halt the significant job losses,” the report stated.
There was a lack of a cohesive strategy and communication between council departments on economic development, it added, while large companies were not given the certainty they needed on land becoming available.
Greater attention needs to be paid to specific wards in future, the research showed, citing unemployment in Oakridge and Castlefield as the highest.
The scrapping of the Booker stadium proposal for Wasps and Wycombe Wanderers was highlighted as another blow to the economy.
Cllr Colomb said: “The thing we feel most strongly is it's a very competitive world, it's no good sitting back.
“We have go to go out and fight to get people.
“We have to use every trick in the book to attract them (businesses).”
Cllr Colomb wants Bucks New University to do a study for WDC looking at why the Thames Valley has been so much more successful.
“The commercial property agents said it's a shame the M40 is not the M4 because it seems to be a magnet which attracts,” he said.
“We should study what it is that makes the companies locate to the M4 corridor so we can consider if there’s anything we can do to make Wycombe more attractive,” he said.
Cllr Colomb said the plans for the new Handy Cross sports centre, which includes offices, was the kind of scheme required.
WDC Leader Cllr Alex Collingwood said economic regeneration is the focal point of his administration and adopted the group's raft of recommendations.
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