The growth of Penrith: statistics tell a sombre story

Dynamic Times Ahead for Penrith

Response by Patrick Darley-Jones, a Greens analysis

What a fascinating introduction to “Dynamic times ahead” by Roderick Shaw of the Penrith Star. Thank you whole-heartedly for opening the door to analysing Penrith and asking searching questions about our future.

The statistics you quote tells a sombre story. In the 1970s, when we were basically a country town, we had about 90 jobs for every 100 working resident. Not too bad for a rural town.

Yet, today, we have only 63 jobs for every 100 working residents.

Add to this statistic that we have an infrastructure that is not meeting the needs of the people and I have to say with great reluctance that I agree with your assessment. It seems we have gone backwards and we need to seriously ask questions: why has this happened and what are we going to do about it?

Your projected growth figures are also a worry. The average increase in population over the past ten years has been 1,067 per year since 2001, which is an average of 0.6% per year; but your estimated population for 2030 is 221,700 people, or 1,870 new residents per year. This equates to a fraction under 1% of growth as an annual average, actually not unlikely.

If we assume that your figures are correct, this will be a significant difference in terms of the need for homes and jobs. This will mean we need an increase of 13,500 homes or 750 per year and we will need 10,800 new jobs, or 600 per year, if we are just going to just maintain that 63 jobs per 100 residents.

Building 750 homes a year is no great challenge, assuming of course that there are 1,870 people who want to come and live in Penrith city – and that we even need the extra houses . Indeed, it is not a necessity that any of these new mortgagees in Penrith have to have a local job; the likely fact is that few of them will, as they will probably already have jobs elsewhere in order to qualify for a mortgage in the first place. As I’m sure you’re aware, it is a well understood fact in the development and real estate industries that there is no need to supply jobs in order to sell houses.

It’s at this point I believe that we lose honest, down-to-earth facts to the political “spin” doctors.

Jobs in Penrith & Penrith Business Alliance

Let’s look at jobs in Penrith – or, to be more accurate, the lack of jobs and the failure to create any real, full-time permanent, career-oriented jobs in Penrith.

Let me start with the body commissioned by Penrith City Council to find jobs for the region, the Penrith Business Alliance (PBA). When I look at their Strategic Plan it tells me 57% of businesses in Penrith are 1-person operated (i.e. they don’t employ anyone) and another 39% employ less than 4 people (i.e. they employ 2 or 3 people). That means that the statistics here are simple: 96% of businesses in Penrith employ between 1 and 3 people, with most of those being owner-operated businesses.

When I read through PBA’s Strategic Plan I was looking for the strategies, tactics and actions they are taking to encourage employers to establish medium- to larger-sized businesses in Penrith (i.e. those sorts of companies who can offer career-oriented, permanent jobs). Instead, I found plenty of warm words and platitudes, but not a single plan of action – unless of course you’re a property developer or a real estate agent. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the PBA board is heavily weighted with people whose priorities are land development. Meanwhile, the average Penrith ratepayer has been sold a “pig in a poke,” with lots of our money being wasted on an organisation that is doing nothing to bring real jobs and prosperity to Penrith, but appears to be focused on catering to its own vested interests.

I’ll ask plainly: how has the PBA contributed to any of those owner-operated businesses that make up the majority of businesses in Penrith? And where are the career-oriented jobs here?

The WELL Precinct Study

The “Werrington Living and Learning Enterprise” (WELL) Precinct Study, developed to plan for living and working in the region between Penrith, St Marys and adjoining areas, receives a similarly positive mention in your piece. Yet their Employment Prospects Analysis proves to be equally grim for the future of Penrith.

Even putting aside that the report is six years out of date, it has lots of statistics and charts but no jobs plan; and it is clear from the wording of the document that the authors hold almost no hope of local jobs being created. Here is the offending text:

The current allocation of jobs: resident workers in Penrith indicates that it will be a challenge to deliver these jobs within the LGA and highlights the importance of looking at job creation in a wider geographical region (i.e. within reasonable commuting distance). There are a number of considerations that the planning of the WELL Precinct should take into account related to people’s propensity to commute.

What is clear to me is that Penrith City Council and their nominated organisations/studies don’t have an answer for how to bring additional jobs to the area.

Let’s allow that local councils might be somewhat limited in what they can do to invite or create jobs in their LGAs, though. Surely, then, this is a state issue? So what is the NSW government doing about bringing jobs to the region?

State Government

In May this year the NSW Government released A Discussion Paper called “Sydney over the Next 20 Years” . This is the State Government’s “discussion paper” on our growing population over the next 20 years and covers how many new homes and jobs will be required during this period. An open document seeking input from the public, you could have picked up a copy and made submissions at Penrith City library.

In this document the State Government tells us the population is projected to grow by 1.36 million people. According to the paper, this means that we will need 570,000 new homes and the creation of 600,000 jobs.

Yes, you read those numbers correctly: we expect there to be 1,360,000 more people but we’ll only need 600,000 new jobs, which translates to about one job per household.

And where will these jobs be?

a) Prime industries will be finance, property, law, business administration, health, education, retail and professional services – i.e. most will be office jobs.

b) Professional, scientific and technical services are the second best option.

c) Last on the list is the manufacturing industry, and I quote the economic opportunities here:

Several factors place pressure on this sector, including competition from economies such as China and India as they move to higher value manufacturing and services.

Career Jobs

We push our children to finish secondary schooling and then go on to University to obtain a higher-level degree. To do what? To work in a retail or fast food shop, despite warnings of hard times ahead for the retail sector in Penrith ? According to these statistics, things are better for those that decide early on to take an apprenticeship and perhaps continue their studies at TAFE. At least they’ll find gainful employment as plumbers, electricians and carpenters – those that make up some of that 57% of single-person businesses located in Penrith. Your other alternative is qualify in health as doctors and nurses or to become an education professional. Thank goodness we have the University of Western Sydney in our midst – otherwise we would be living in a desert.

What you can take from all of this is that if you don’t get into health, banking, law and education, with the reality of commuting to work at other places firmly in mind, then getting a trade is your next best option. However, bear in mind that apprenticeships need employers to give you that start – and even then places are limited, particularly when you consider that, according to The Sydney Morning Herald, “Australia’s building and construction industry is in survival mode”.

Penrith City Council & You

The message that Penrith’s residents can take away from this is that both Penrith City council and the state government have given up on you.

I refuse to subscribe to this defeatist attitude. People need jobs and it is the duty of those that hold any level of public office to always ensure that there is a full range of employment opportunities, for people of all abilities.

I know from long years of experience because I’ve been in manufacturing all my working life that if you want to attract a business to your area, you have to provide it with incentives. Yet, so far I’ve seen no evidence of any level of office in Penrith offering any real incentives to attract anyone to our city.

Think about it: why would I go to the expense of moving my office or factory from, say, Caringbah, Bankstown or North Ryde, just because you are a gateway to the Blue Mountains?

We urgently need to explore what incentives we can offer businesses to relocate here. Consider the North West Business Park adjoining Castle Hill: there was a time that all the now-occupied land was vacant. What incentives were offered to those hundreds of businesses now operating in that area?

It is clear that we need to be accelerating efforts to attract more businesses to Penrith. However, we also need to make sure that we are doing what we can to attract businesses that bring good jobs; that are modern and sustainable; and that have a future.

News Just In – The Federal Government

It was announced today, 25th July 2012, at the University of Western Sydney (UWS) by the Hon. Tony Burke MP that the federal government will be investing $13.5 million for the Werrington Park Corporate Centre. This is the first step to establishing a multi-million dollar Health and Education Precinct for Penrith and Greater Western Sydney.

It is anticipated the Precinct will have the capacity to generate 6000 “knowledge jobs of the future” over the next 20 years, in areas such as health, engineering, digital communications and education. UWS are also putting up a further $14.5 million of their own funds to help realise the development of the project. Again, thank goodness for the University of Western Sydney.

It's great that this injection of $13.5 million from the Australian Government’s Suburban Jobs Program will see the first stage of Werrington Park get underway. Finally, some light of hope shining from out of the darkness. At last we’ve started to move from 2006 into 2012 and beyond.

We should not, though, rush out and sell our cars tomorrow. It will take time for this large project to gather momentum.

It is also worth noting that the Werrington Project anticipates the creation of jobs for 6000 people over a 20 year period; and that, at 300 jobs a year as an average, this is still only half the number of local jobs that we need to be creating, at a minimum.

What will present a further challenge is identify how many of those 60% of working people travelling each day will be qualified and eligible to fill what may be fairly specialised jobs in the arena of “knowledge jobs to the future”.

Still, it is a start and those parties involved should be congratulated.

We need to make sure this continues to work to the benefit of our locals – particularly our young people, who will now not only be able to attend a local University but who, with the right guidance, support and further commitments from our Council, should also have access to even more excellent prospects of employment within the Penrith area.

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