Unemployment in South Lakes 'twice as high' as before Covid-19

The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on South Lakeland has been laid bare at a meeting of district councillors.

Unemployment as of November 2021 remained twice as high as pre-pandemic levels - but half of the 2020 peak of four per cent.

Councillors were told the feared 'mass unemployment and business failures' had not materialised.

South Lakeland did have the highest take-up rate of furlough of any UK local authority in the UK, with 42 per cent of the eligible workforce - 24,100 people - utilising the scheme at some point during the pandemic.

The information was presented by officers from South Lakeland District Council's (SLDC's) economic development team in a virtual briefing. Officers described 'acute staffing challenges' being felt at the beginning of this year due to high numbers of Covid-19 cases and the resultant periods of self-isolation.

It was stressed that staffing issues in the district were 'much more deep-rooted' and presented a 'longer-term challenge which pre-dates Covid'.

"There is a 5,000 to 10,000 shortfall in the working-age population (16 to 64) across Cumbria, driven in part by the loss of younger workers, early retirements and the impact of Brexit on European Union immigration," said a presentation given to councillors.

Officers said the working-age population in South Lakeland had fallen by 4,000, or 6.3 per cent, over the past decade. They said the last five years had seen a slower reduction - of one per cent - but that 'the trajectory is for this decline to continue'.

Traders have apparently been resilient in the face of adversity, however, with the number of businesses operating in the district - 8,997 - as of November 2021 similar to the pre-pandemic figure. Officers attributed this in part to new start-ups in the area.

A number of opportunities for future development in South Lakeland were identified. Among them were the 'repurposing' of town centres to 'include more experiential uses and living accommodation' and 'embracing technology and digital connectivity to grow our economy'.

SLDC anticipates working with education and training providers to 'offer broader career and training opportunities and upskill the local workforce'. It also wants to 'harness our natural environment, landscape and local skills to become a leader in the clean-energy sector and green economy'.