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Should businesses offering low wages be discouraged from moving to Wakefield?

Wakefield city centre.
Wakefield city centre.

Big-name businesses who only pay low wages should be discouraged from moving to Wakefield, a senior councillor has suggested.

The district council is trying to address a skills shortage across the city in a bid to attract new investment and job opportunities to the area.

Coun Olivia Rowley

Coun Olivia Rowley

A report earlier this year by a national think tank said that nearly a third of jobs in Wakefield could be lost to robots and artificial intelligence by 2030, a forecast which has been greeted with concern by the city’s leaders.

But Coun Olivia Rowley, a former portfolio holder for children and young people, has said that employers offering poorly-paid work were responsible for increasing poverty.

Although the local authority wants to encourage training opportunities for young people, it was revealed in April that the high cost of public transport was “holding back” those looking for work.

Making the comments in a council scrutiny meeting today (Monday), Coun Rowley said: “In my ward in Eastmoor, you have to catch two buses to get to an adult education centre, so people can’t afford the bus fare.

“Then when they get there, most of the courses need loans to pay for them.

“Should we be deterring those companies who employ people on low wages from moving into the district?

“OK, they employ people, but what it actually does is make poverty worse because it drives wages down.”

Parts of the Wakefield district are among the most impoverished areas anywhere in the UK, with Knottingley, Hemsworth and Normanton among those worst hit by deprivation.

But the council’s acting head of regeneration and growth, Neil Rodgers, said that rejecting any kind of jobs offer would be “tough”.

He said: “Do we refuse applications for new employment growth? It’s not just about low quality jobs.

“A job’s a job at the end of the day. If we’re going to reject new jobs we have to know what we’re talking about.

“For me, it’s not about refusal. It’s about creating an environment where we can attract good jobs and that’s not going to happen overnight.”

Although there are hopes that the prospect of a university for Wakefield could help the city retain young and talented workers, Coun Rowley said that poverty remained a problem in Bradford - which did have a university - despite the offer of higher education.

But Coun Glenn Burton said: “With the university we’ve got a good starting point.

“In Wakefield we’ve not had a culture of higher and further education in the past. That’s changing now.”