Exciting Times Ahead for Ulverston

Autumn has arrived; it’s cold, it’s wet and the nights are drawing in. Ebola, instability in the Middle East and Liverpool aren’t looking good for the “top four”. But there is a crumb of good news when you turn on BBC One at 6 o’clock: the UK economy seems to be on the move.

The recent announcement that GDP has grown by 0.75% – 3% compared to the third quarter in 2013 – is welcoming news for the UK as a whole and the North-West. The domestic economy is more upbeat and the UK’s manufacturing industry is on track to grow at its fastest pace since 2010.

Manufacturing accounts for 27% of Cumbria’s economic output – twice the national average – with the county’s skilled workforce employed in a miscellany of engineering, technological and industrial industries. And nowhere is the atmosphere of economic revival more noticeable than Ulverston in the south of the county, which is experiencing something of a manufacturing revolution.

The emergence of Ulverston as a centre for advanced manufacturing and technology is symptomatic of continued growth in the region’s economy. “The GDP figures announced today are…the fastest growing of any advanced economy”, says Clive Drinkwater, Regional Director of UKTI North West. “International business continues to play a very important role in the wealth and prosperity of the North West, and we need to continue our efforts to make the most of international opportunities.”

“Sustained Growth in Cumbria is being driven by its high concentration of global manufacturing companies with new investments by BAE systems, GSK, M-Sport, Tritech International (which has just completed a £5.5m, 33,000ft2 R&D/manufacturing centre), £80m being invested by Centrica Energy onshore at Barrow and continued export success of Siemens Subsea which is embarking on a range of new product investment”, a spokesperson from BAE Systems Submarine Solutions in Barrow said.

The continued success of BAE in Barrow is good news for Ulverston and shipbuilding continues to be a major source of growth in Cumbria. “The annual average change in GVA for shipbuilding in Cumbria since 2006 is 16.9%, in comparison other sectors showed only 1.5% change. The shipyard at Barrow has, since 2004, increased employment from 2,900 to over 6,500 now, with more than 1000 recruited in 2014.“

But it is Ulverston which is taking the biggest strides forward. In September 2014 South Lakes District Council planners gave unanimous approval – “in principle” support – to initial plans for the new £350 million development at GSK Ulverston. The plans include an 119,000m2 facility with three production buildings, office and research floor-space, a distribution and storage warehouse, a waste water treatment plant and a sports and social centre. These plans will no doubt increase both the quantity and kind of jobs Ulverston has to offer.

The GSK team have created an excellent dialogue with local residents and council bosses, evident in the fact that there have been no objections to the biopharm development. It is expected to create around 700 jobs during construction and 700 full time jobs in Cumbria and the Furness area, and spending by new employees will create a further 70 jobs in the town. Truly, more than just a shot in the arm for the local economy.

“[The] facility will help to deliver economic benefits across the area with highly skilled jobs at the site and also in the supply chain, both during construction and subsequent operation on the site”, says Jonathan Brook, SLDC’s portfolio-holder for strategic growth.

“The company expects to start work on constructing the first part of the new factory in 2016, once the reserved-matters planning application has been approved and additional work has been completed to prepare for construction”, says Pat McIver, the biopharm lead at Glaxo. “GSK is proud to have been part of the community in Ulverston for more than 65 years and we believe this new factory will make a significant contribution to the local economy.”

Indeed, Furness is experiencing an unprecedented period of business development and plans are in place to strengthen links between Ulverston and neighbouring Barrow. Phil Huck, chief executive of Barrow Borough Council, has compared the inward investment in South Cumbria (£2.74bn) to two Olympic Games over the next decade. This “revolution” includes a manufacturing technology centre at Furness College to help meet the demand for skilled-workers at BAE, Glaxo and other local manufacturing and engineering companies that provide engineering jobs in Cumbria.

“It’s really important to support the skills required in industries [in Ulverston and Barrow]”, says David Sykes, director of people and places at SLDC. “We are seeing such a scale of growth that there is a risk that it will outstrip the skills base. It’s the local area’s gain to win but it’s also theirs to lose so it’s critical that Barrow and the district co-operate on this. There’s a relationship between Ulverston and Barrow in terms of the high tech products like LEDs and subsea technology. When you look back in time there is a connection with ship building and that seems to be the genesis of a lot of companies in Ulverston.”

Sustained growth in the third-quarter of 2014, reflected in recent GDP figures, highlights how small and medium sized businesses are continuing to grow and employ new staff. Admittedly, the rate of growth is moderate but it will continue if Westminster does what it can to create an economic environment that businesses can thrive in.

The UK is experiencing steady and balanced growth across the four major sectors of the economy: Services, Manufacturing, Construction and Agriculture – with the first three (which make up 95.5% of the economy) all growing by 3% or more.
And the North-West has more reason than most to be optimistic about its future. It has benefitted by the greatest amount of direct investment from Regional Growth Funds across the UK and has the highest number of new business start-ups outside of London and the South East. It also offers the most apprenticeships in the country; over 70,000 more than the South East. Employment is up by over 90,000; nearly 75,000 businesses have had their National Insurance contribution reduced and over 3000 start-up loans have been approved to the value of around £17 million.

There is a great deal of anticipation and excitement at Tritech International following the official opening of the underwater engineering firm’s new facility at Oubus Hill, Ulverston. The £5 million, 30,000ft2 site provides enhanced facilities for the development and manufacture of the company’s underwater tech products, which it plans to double over the next five years. The new amenities include a larger deep water tank and more advanced high-pressure testing equipment to better replicate subsea conditions.

June 2014 witnessed the official opening of the new Marl Hub, a business centre designed to attract innovative companies and enable existing high-tech firms to “access extensive enterprise, business and supply chain support through Furness Enterprise and partners including Cumbria Growth Hub.” The Marl Business Park – which holds a 100% success rate for start-up companies – is home to the Marl Group, a pioneer in the LED lighting industry and one of the most progressive high-tech firms in the county. The company matched a £200,000 grant from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to fund the new facility.

GSK’s £350 million development in Ulverston is the company’s first new manufacturing facility in the UK in almost forty years – great news for the industry nationwide which employs 67,000 people (15,000 of which are employed by Glaxo) and generates an annual trade surplus of £7 billion. And the company could potentially double its investment in the town to £700m if the “environment for innovation” proves to be suitable.

Chief executive Sir Andrew Witty said the “patent box”, which has introduced a lower rate of corporation tax on profits made from UK-owned intellectual property, persuaded the company to view the UK as the place to invest. “The medicines of the future will not only be discovered, but also continue to be made here in Britain”, he said. And Ulverston will be at the vanguard of those discoveries and developments.

“People think it is isolated but we are an hour from Manchester”, says Rob Johnston, chief executive of the Cumbria chamber of commerce. “In a global economy, that is on the doorstep.” Indeed, an important reason for choosing Ulverston was its proximity to top scientists and engineers at universities in Manchester, Lancaster and Liverpool, as well as the government-backed research centre in Daresbury.

The development is a “big thumbs-up for the UK manufacturing, pharmaceutical and construction sectors”, says Linda McCulloch, national officer at the UK’s largest union, Unite. “This investment is fantastic for the North-West. It will create much-needed employment opportunities in the area and will safeguard hundreds of skilled jobs.”

Ulverston and the wider Furness area is emerging as a popular – the go-to, even – destination for engineering companies and specialist and niche manufacturers which the availability of engineering jobs in the North West relies on. In October 2014, Felix O’Hare, project manager of the North East of England Process Industry Cluster, said that there were huge opportunities for companies in the area, in particular by diversifying into the process sector – a £26 billion industry. “We have found that some companies, especially engineering companies, have that fundamental capability and transferable skills which can move into the process sector and we’ve proved that with the companies we’ve worked with so far”, he said. Projects such as Business Acceleration for SMEs (BASME) is open to enterprises in Furness (as well as the North-East) and represents a new opportunity for businesses to branch-out and grow.

Another Ulverston company, Oxley Group, is taking off after landing a major order with US commercial aircraft giant, Gulfstream. The deal – focused on the manufacture of external lighting on new executive jets – essentially guarantees five years of work for the company which provides around 170 jobs Cumbria.

“Oxley has made a significant commitment in delivering the complete external lighting solution for the Gulfstream G500 and G600 jets, says Martin Blakstad, Oxley Group chief executive. “It has challenged our team to push the boundaries of their design, production and testing expertise.

The announcement, which was made in October 2014, underlines the importance of Ulverston as a centre of high-tech manufacturing and design. John Woodcock, MP for Barrow and Furness, attributed the success to Ulverston-based innovation. “Oxley is part of a remarkable cluster of LED lighting manufacturers in Ulverston, providing vital local jobs, skills and inward investment into Furness”, he said, “the announcement of such a major order will help to guarantee the continuing success of this high-tech hub.”

The Oxley Group already designs and manufactures lighting components for some of the world’s biggest defence and aerospace giants such as BAE Systems, Saab, Boeing and Lockheed Martin. Yet it has had to constantly evolve and diversify to the ever-changing economic landscape. In response to UK defence cuts, for instance, Oxley has looked to expand overseas, with exports now accounting for around 75% of its turnover. It has targeted markets – and seen success – in South Korea, Western Europe, India and Turkey. However, it can all still be attributed to the highly-skilled work it carries out in Ulverston.

Hundreds of jobs are expected to be created in Ulverston over the next decade and plans are in place to upgrade the town’s infrastructure and housing stock. Plans published by SLDC outline potential land for more than 1,000 new homes to meet the existing and future demand: 747 houses in the Croftlands estate and 160 homes in nearby Swarthmoor. And a new Community Infrastructure Levy is hoped to offset the inevitable demand on school places and local healthcare.

Housing companies are expected to make a greater contribution to the local community; developers paying a specified amount for every square metre of new properties, which will go towards public projects and amenities. Plans are also in place to improve Ulverston’s roads in anticipation for more traffic.

The future of a major supermarket development in Ulverston remains in the balance. Plans for a 20,000ft2 supermarket – on the old Robinson’s Brewery site – were approved by SLDC’s planning committee in April last year. There continues to be opposition from some campaigners in the town, who stress the environmental impact on the town and the potential repercussions for smaller businesses. “Development of the Brewery site is sorely needed, but it has to be appropriate development if it is not to undermine Ulverston’s future viability and attractiveness for residents, big business investment and visitors”, said a spokesperson for Keep Ulverston Special. Despite the opposition, however, it ultimately represents another exciting step in the continued development of the town.

Plans are in place for a £4.5m new development and refurbishment at Ulverston Victoria High School. The project includes a new build and refurbishment in the technology department, as well as new science labs. There will also be new social and research facilities for the expanding sixth-form.

“Our vision is a South Lakeland where young people can expect to leave school or college, find a local job, and buy or rent a home with the proceeds of that employment”, says Janet Willis, deputy leader of SLDC. “Ulverston is a focus for much of the work that is going on to deliver that economic growth and prosperity and Ulverston is central to our policies. We have worked closely with the likes of Glaxo, Tritech and Siemens to support their developments, but we recognise that we can’t expect these companies to invest without the infrastructure and new houses to support them.”

Aside from its location on the threshold to the Lake District, Ulverston is Cumbria’s Festival Town. There’s something for everyone: from Buddhism to Beer, from Dickens to Dancing. You name it, it’s got it. June plays host to the town’s newest event, Another Fine Fest, a festival of art, music, comedy and street theatre in celebration of the town’s most famous son, Stan Laurel. And when the cold and dark autumnal evenings arrive, Ulverston’s festival-goers take to the streets among a stream of blazing lanterns.

At Recruitment Cumbria, we’re fortunate to be based in such a vibrant and forward-thinking town like Ulverston. If you can excuse the cliché, these really are exciting times. With talk in Westminster and the media about a “northern economic powerhouse”, not to mention the HS2 and HS3 infrastructure projects and the debate about the devolution of political power, the North is soon to experience new economic strength enabling it to become partners with London in competing with the rest of the world.

The UK boasts relatively strong growth figures, especially when compared to the volatile Eurozone, which is helping it to lead the pack in an increasingly uncertain, yet certainly competitive, global economy.

The recent news that the number of Furness young people not in employment, education or training has fallen to 4.4% this year is especially good news, as it reflects the increasing ambition of young people. A result of this increase in ambition is the deepening of an already rich talent pool, which will no doubt serve to improve the already booming business scene in Ulverston. With recruitment agencies in Cumbria here to help, many of these new young professionals will likely go on to flourish in an exciting jobs market in Ulverston and the surrounding areas including jobs at Sellafield, jobs at BAE and other engineering jobs in Cumbria.

The North-West represents a real growth opportunity as business leaders in the region focus on rebalancing the economy. Ulverston has emerged as more than just a market town on the edge of the Lake District, it is home to a thriving – and continually developing – business and technology scene. With a number of companies holding the potential to become world market leaders, Ulverston has also shown itself to be a centre for advanced manufacturing.