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State of the Borough narrative October 2021

This summary complements the State of the Borough data dashboard and highlights some of the key trends emerging in Cheshire West and Chester.  All notes on the sources of data, definitions and so on are available on the dashboard.

Context

The borough of Cheshire West and Chester covers approximately 350 square miles and is the fourth largest unitary authority in the North West.  The area is characterised by attractive countryside, varied landscapes and diverse settlements.  This includes the historic City of Chester, industrial towns, market towns and rural hamlets.  Over 343,000 people live in the borough, and over a quarter live in rural areas.  The population is expected to increase over the next twenty years, particularly in older age groups.

Population

343,823 people are estimated to live in Cheshire West, with just over a quarter living in rural areas.  Some 18% of residents are 0-15 years old; 21.8% are over 65; and 60.2% are of working age (between 16 and 64 years old).  This is an older population than the England average.

The population is forecast to increase by about 12% to 381,000 by 2038. Older age groups will see the biggest increase, with the number of residents aged 65 plus expected to increase by 44%.  It is predicted that there will be more than 100,000 local people over 65 by 2038. 

According to the 2011 Census around 5% of local residents were from Black and Minority Ethnic backgrounds, far less than the 20% England average.  Polish is the most frequently spoken non-English language.

COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic began to impact on the UK from the start of 2020, with a national lockdown declared at the end of March.  Due to the time taken to collate and report much of the information within the State of the Borough, the impact of the pandemic is only slowly showing in the data.  Examples where the impact of the pandemic can be seen include a drop in vehicle miles travelled along with fewer visitors to town centres, amenities and tourist attractions.  There has also been an increase in local unemployment, visits to foodbanks and pupils being eligible for free school meals.

Council Plan Priorities

Tackling the Climate Emergency 

Per capita carbon emissions for the borough in 2019 increased slightly on 2018 to 11.2ktco2, with the largest proportion of overall emissions and of the recent increase being attributable to industry.  Whilst showing a 31% reduction since 2009, local emissions remain more than double the national average.  Across England as a whole, the greater part of emissions is accounted for by transport and household emissions. 

More recent data shows the impact of the pandemic and national lockdowns, with vehicle miles travelled per 100,000 people falling from 791miles in 2019 to 608miles in 2020 – the first significant drop since Cheshire West and Chester was created.  This will impact on borough-wide emission figures next year.  Whilst figures remain lower than nationally, the number of low emission vehicles owned locally also rose to 428 per 100,000 population.

Fairer Futures: tackling the Poverty Emergency

Whilst Cheshire West is an affluent borough the overall picture masks stark gaps between areas of prosperity and deprivation.  The median local household income is £27,146 per year but 16.7% of local households have an annual income of less than £15,000.  Some 24,670 local people live in neighbourhoods ranked in the most deprived 10% in England and 9,003 local children lived in low-income houses during 2019/20.  Whilst life expectancy in the borough continues to rise, male life expectancy across the borough varies by up to 10.6 years for men and 8.8 years for women.

More recent information shows that visits to foodbanks increased from 16,494 in 2019 to 22,427 in 2020, the percentage of local pupils eligible for free school meals increased from 13.3% in 2019 to 17.7% in 2021 and unemployment increased from 2.1% in 2019 to 3.6% in 2020.

Average attainment 8 scores at GCSE show that whilst non-disadvantaged pupils tend to do slightly better than similar pupils nationally (54.1 compared to 53.7) local disadvantaged pupils tend to do worse than disadvantaged pupils nationally (36.8 compared to 40.2).

Grow our local economy and deliver good jobs with fair wages for our residents

The largest business sectors in Cheshire West in terms of the number of businesses are professional, scientific and technical (2,960 businesses), construction (1,465) and business admin and support (1,325).  The sectors with the highest number of employees are retail (21,000 employees), health (18,000) and manufacturing (14,000).  Up until the most recent figures in 2019, business births were slowly decreasing (to 1,630) and business deaths slowly increasing (to 1,620) to become broadly equal.  A similar percentage of local businesses survive two years (77%) to the national (76%) and North West England (76%) averages.  However, the growth in Gross Value Added (GVA) in the borough over the last ten years (0.7%) is lower than both the North West (1.6%) and UK averages (1.9%).

The local employment rate increased in 2020 to 81.6% and is higher than England (75.7%), despite both model-based unemployment and unemployment benefit claimant rates increasing.  Just over 32% of local people are working part-time.  Whilst 52,168 people commute out of the borough for work (with Cheshire East the most popular destination), 52,003 commute into the borough (with Flintshire the most popular source).

In 2019, there were 37.4million visitors to the borough, the overwhelming majority of which were ‘day visits’.  They had an economic impact worth £2.2billion.  Chester Zoo was by far the most popular visitor attraction but saw a 43% drop in visitors as the pandemic hit in 2020.

Support children and young people to get the best start in life and achieve their full potential

Whilst data shows that the borough ‘infant mortality rate’ and the percentage of ‘low birthweight term babies’ are better than the national average, the percentage of ‘babies whose first feed is breastmilk’ in the borough is significantly worse at 63.1% compared to an England average of 67.4%.  Most recent figures show that 9.1% of local reception age (4-5 years) and 19.4% of local year six (10-11 years) children were obese.  Whilst remaining better than the England average, both measures are at their highest levels in a number of years.

The percentage of school children with social, emotional and mental health needs in 2020 had increased to 7.2% but remains significantly lower than the England average.   Whilst hospital admissions for alcohol and for substance misuse were similar to the national average, the rate of teenage conceptions was 13.4, below the England average of 16.7.

Overall absence from school is lower than the England average at primary age (3.9% of sessions compared to 4% nationally), but higher at secondary (5.7% in comparison to 5.5%).  92% of primary schools in the borough, and 84.2% of secondary schools, are rated as good or outstanding by OFSTED.  The number of people starting in adult education at 19 has fallen from 23,842 in 2016 to 7,950 in 2020.

To enable more adults to live longer, healthier and happier lives

Life expectancy in the borough is 83.3 years for women (in line with the national average) and 80.1 years for men (slightly above the national average of 79.8 years).  Around 21,400 local people over 65 live alone.

Adults in Cheshire West and Chester are more likely to be obese than in England (69.1% compared to 62.8%) and pregnant women are more likely to be smoking at the time of giving birth (11.6% locally compared to 10.4% nationally).  Local people are in line with England for other healthy behaviours: smoking, hospital admissions related to alcohol and being physically active.

Engagement with libraries, museums and leisure facilities fell in 2020 with the impact of the pandemic, but engagement with archives went from 1.7million visits in 2019-20 to 2.38million in 2020/21 as their online offer was extended.

Make our neighbourhoods even better places to call home

Some 82% of Borough residents are satisfied with their local area as a place to live and 74% feel like they belong to the local area.  Around 53% of people feel that residents pull together to improve the area, yet 34% think their local area has got worse over the last 12 months.  Almost three-quarters of local people are involved with a group, club or organisation, with the most common being a sports club of some kind.

The numbers of people killed or seriously injured on Cheshire West’s roads has continued to fall and is lower than the national average.  The last twelve months have also seen an 11.7% fall in the number of reported crimes, compared to a 12.7% national fall.  When surveyed though, 63% of local people said they felt very or fairly safe after dark.

Of the 161,923 homes and dwellings in Cheshire West, 30.5% are rented, 31.5% are owned with a mortgage or loan and 38% are owned outright. Around 46,500 local people live alone.  Median house prices are increasing and local house prices are now more than seven times annual earnings.

For more information visit the State of the Borough dashboard.

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