WITH its backdrop of endless rolling hills and picture-postcard vistas, Richmondshire is widely renowned as one of the most beautiful areas in all of England.
It is also one of the most remote.
District council leader and local county councillor John Blackie says: “My county council division here covers 325 square miles, and has 6,500 residents living in it – that’s men, women and children.
“After that, there’s a quarter of a million sheep and five million rabbits. This is certainly one of the most rural parts of England.”
Such seclusion offers a wealth of benefits to local residents, from the wonderfully untouched scenery to the unchanging pace of life.
But it also brings serious problems.
Today’s investigation by the Yorkshire Post into levels of pay in different parts of the region places Richmondshire bottom of all 21 local authority areas in Yorkshire, estimates suggesting the average wage still lags below £20,000.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics show wages have fallen way behind even neighbouring North Yorkshire areas over the past decade, increasing just 21 per cent since 2010.
Wages in Harrogate have risen 40 per cent over the same 10-year period.
“It’s all about the quality of the employment on offer,” Coun Blackie says. “Agriculture and tourism are not highly paid areas, and the public sector is being squeezed hard.”
Levels of pay in the area do not tell the whole story, however. Separate data compiled by research firm Acxiom on household incomes shows that on average, people in Richmondshire are actually better off than many of their regional counterparts, typically bringing in £30,179 per year.
Figures for household incomes in Craven, Hambleton and Ryedale are even higher, out-stripping both Leeds and York.
The simple reason for this disparity between incomes and wages appears to be that many high-earners in rural areas are forced to travel long distances each day to work.
“Richmondshire is obviously a wonderful place to live,” says James Farrer of North Yorkshire’s economic assessment unit. “So what you see is a lot of people choosing to live there but commuting in to Harrogate or to York or up to Middlesbrough to earn much higher wages, and then coming home to Richmondshire afterwards.
“For the most part, the opportunities just are not there to earn high wages locally.”
This in turn is having a series of negative impacts on the local area – most notably upon house prices.
“We have some of the highest house prices in England,” Coun Blackie says. “The cost of a two-bedroom cottage in somewhere like Hawes still remains about £185,000. You’re going to struggle to get a mortgage of that size, especially these days, on an average wage of below £20,000.”
The result is that young people are being forced out of their communities in search of higher pay and affordable housing.
“We are losing young people from the Dales because they cannot find the opportunity to buy a house, or the opportunity to find a job that meets their skills,” Coun Blackie says. “People come back from college highly skilled and find they do not have the opportunity to use those skills because of the employment opportunities available.”
It is not just rural areas being affected by low wages – growing disparities can also be seen between some of Yorkshire’s urban areas.
The average wage in Leeds is now almost 11 per cent higher than in neighbouring Bradford, while the average wage in York is more than seven per cent higher than in Hull.
Bradford in particular appears to be falling further behind, with a lower growth rate in annual wages since 2000 than almost any other urban area.
Average wages in Doncaster, Barnsley, Calderdale, Harrogate, Hull, Scarborough and even tiny Hambleton have all overtaken typical pay in Bradford over the past decade, according to the ONS data.
But Andy Cullwick of Bradford Chamber of Commerce said the levels of pay simply equate to the types of work on offer in different areas.
“There are different job functions going on in different cities,” he said. “The Leeds city region is looking more and more to the financial services sector, for example.
“In Leeds city centre you get a lot more of the head office functions, and in Bradford you get more of the back office work functions.”
His comments were supported by the Institute of Directors.
A joint statement from regional director Ken Robbins and West Yorkshire chair Charlotte Britton said the inequalities across the Yorkshire region “reflect the differences in industry.”
“You have Leeds, which is the second largest service industry provider outside London, sitting shoulder to shoulder with Bradford, which is the third largest manufacturing city in the UK,” they said. “That’s quite a dichotomy. You have two cities next to each other at the top end of the distinct commercial disciplines.”
One area which has seen little change over the past decade is North Lincolnshire, home to the highest wages back in 2000 and maintaining that position today.
North Lincolnshire District Council said the figures are somewhat distorted by the high wages paid at Tata Steel in Scunthorpe. With that firm recently announcing more than 1,000 job losses, the average wage in the district may now begin to fall.