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Thursday, December 10, 2009

The forgotten country

Former Bridgend Council Leader, Jeff Jones asks a perfectly valid question in this morning's Western Mail, when he queries the difference between the £60m aid package announced to combat the recently announced 1,700 job cuts in Teesside and the lack of any such package when 2,000 workers in Maesteg lost their jobs after the closure of two factories:

The former Labour councillor, who is now a local government consultant, said: “Cosi and Cooper Standard used to employ more than 2,000 workers between them on adjacent sites.

“What did Maesteg get in terms of Government aid when they both closed last year? Nowt.

“Corus in Teesside employs 1,700 workers. What will the area get from the UK Government when the steelworks closes? [Business Secretary] Lord Mandelson has just announced a £60m package. It puts anything the Assembly Government spends on combating unemployment completely in the shade. Who said big government doesn’t work?

“I wonder what would have happened if the plant had been in Wales? The UK Government can provide £60m for 1,700 jobs and the Assembly Government provides £20m for the whole of Wales on youth unemployment."

The Welsh Government responds by trotting out its usual answer abour ReAct and ProAct together with a list of other initiatives, none of which are targetted at Maesteg. However, they never answer the fundamental question of why Maesteg is not getting the sort of public sector investment as Teeside or even for that matter the former Burberry site in Rhondda.
Do you think H Irranc-Davies's job is safe? I think so, so why does any initiative to replace the 2,000 jobs need to be rolled out in the Llynfi Valley?
Parliamentary Under-Secretary at DEFRA, isn't he, anon.? That should be worth 500 votes.

Next question: will Madeleine Moon be given a departmental job for the last three or four months of this government?
I know many people can be very cynical about politics but the £60 million for Teesside has nothing to do with saving seats in the area. There are no Labour seats at risk. What Mandelson has done is realise the mistakes of the government in the past and produced a comprehensive package including investment for green jobs. My argument is that the two factories which were the heart of Maesteg were allowed to close with no real attempt made to help the community. The use of taxpayesr money to put up a 'designer' sign after the facytories had closed added insult to injury. Unfortunately for many of the former industrial parts of Wales much of the Objective One funding and now the Covergence funding has and is being wasted on public sector projects which will not add one percentage point to the GVA. During the years of plenty no one has actually sat down at either a civil service level or political level and thought through where they wanted Wales to be in 2020. Although the Irish economic miracle came crashing to a halt.Its success in the 1980s and 1990s was due to a vision put together by civil servants and politicians in Dublin who knew where they wanted to go. In Wales the money has been seen by too many vested interests including local government as a milk cow for short term financial gain. How anyone can believe that using convergence money for yet more public realm works in the centre of Bridgend will improve the economic prospects of the area is beyond me. The symbol in years to come of where it all went wrong will be the Walkway to Nowhere in the cente of Bridgend which cost the taxpayers over £2.2 million pounds. £220000 of that was even an overspend.
You also have to look at what the community around these plants have done though. On Teesside there has been a mass "Save Our Steel" campaign led by the workers and by local high profile businessmen such as Steve Gibson, which has got a lot of local media coverage, and is on the front page of the local news paper everyday. Also big protests, which as far as I know haven't happened in Maesteg.
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