Steven Broomhead is chief executive of Warrington Borough Council and writes a regular column for the Guardian

WAGE levels in our town have always in recent times been five per cent above national average and nine per cent more than in the north west.

This is a consequence of our employment structure with services, science, nuclear and environment sectors keeping us ahead. The rise of logistics and distribution employment have also recently had a negative “drag” effect although all of these businesses pay the national living wage.

So, are we an example of the Prime Minister’s vision for the nation of a positive new high wage, high skilled, low tax post Brexit economy? Or is this a delusion as we face skills shortages, rising inflation, household costs, long NHS waiting lists, disruption to food/fuel supplies and significant anxiety that this Christmas will be dominated by shortages?

High wages are fine but how do we actually pay for them? Is it you can’t buy what you can’t pay for and in the medium term you can’t pay for things with money that you don’t earn or responsibly borrow for?

The key to much of this is levels of productivity which have stubbornly remained constant over the years. The cost of higher wages has to be met by greater productivity otherwise the wage costs will simply be passed on – helping to create inflation.

In order to have greater productivity this needs investment, particularly in skills training and development. It is very positive that our local schools and colleges are increasingly growing vocational and skill based training and the “Town Deal” which will give a £20m+ investment and will have as its core 2 Academies practical based training and upskilling in the construction and caring sectors.

Until recently our economic success has been a consequence of the employment of EU workers. In the mid 1990’s they made up 5% of our local workforce, last year this rose to 14% ensuring that “difficult to fill roles” were filled and contributing to our economic growth. Brexit and the pandemic plus the value of the pound slide lowering the remittances that could be sent home with the resulting impact of a large number of EU workers have gone leaving vacancies that need filling by locals. Six months ago I would have predicted that post pandemic we would have seen an economy struggling with rising unemployment but now I am surprised by the avalanche of job vacancies. A key issue is will these vacancies be taken by local people and will they have the right skills and attributes to do so? In order for this to happen, there is a need for these jobs to have attractive wage levels, good working conditions and commitment to continually upskilling. The Prime Minister’s “Sunnylads economy” will only be realised if skills investment is maintained and increased adequate business and public sector frontline services are given support in our great town. If this is done then the vague soundbite “Levelling Up” aspiration will be closer to achievement.