Wednesday, 2 January 2008

No Progress Without Independence

Valleys fail as English and Scottish coal towns thrive

Jan 2 2008 by Rhodri Clark, Western Mail

THE Welsh Valleys are standing still, while equivalent areas in England and Scotland flourish, according to a damning report. Large areas of South Wales are still struggling to cope with the legacy of the country’s industrial past, resulting in large scale unemployment and a shortage of skills. But parts of England and Scotland with similar backgrounds have showed strong signs of recovery since the decline of the British coal industry in the 1980s, says social welfare group the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
The findings last night led to calls for new economic strategies to ensure that Cardiff’s prosperity finds its way into the Valleys. Research by the JRF shows that people have fared better in other former colliery regions in Britain than in the central Valleys – either by commuting to the nearest cities or finding new jobs locally. Critics said yesterday the Valleys had seen too much emphasis on temporary inward investment by foreign companies, and too little on indigenous businesses.
Childcare and transport were criticised for stopping Valleys residents taking jobs in the M4 corridor. The issues will be debated at a conference next month on the challenges facing the Heads of the Valleys.
The JRF compared three areas: central Valleys and Cardiff; South Yorkshire coalfield and Sheffield; and Lothian coalfield and Edinburgh. It found that from 1998 to 2003 there was zero growth in employment for men in the Valleys, and just 4% growth for women. Overall growth of 2% compares with 9.5% in the South Yorkshire coalfield and 7.8% in the Lothian coalfield. Cardiff had seen bigger employment growth than Sheffield or Edinburgh, but the report questions the benefits for Valleys residents.
In 2001 just 8.5% of working- age residents in the central Valleys commuted to Cardiff – compared with 39.5% from Lothian working in Edinburgh. Increased traffic on the A470 and passengers on the Valley Lines imply that many more people now commute to Cardiff from the Valleys, but Rhondda AM Leanne Wood said many of her constituents were reluctant or unable to work more than a few miles from their home or children’s school.
“We’ve got low skills in the Valleys. It means that people can only apply for low-paid jobs,” she said. “That could mean they can’t afford the transport and childcare.
“One of the things that will encourage more women into work is having employment on their doorstep and the flexibility to get around informal childcare arrangements.
“A lot of people I know rely on grandparents, friends or neighbours. You can’t do that if you spend an hour each side of your working day travelling to Cardiff. A job in Cardiff isn’t practical.”
She said the JRF report showed how grants for inward investment in the 1980s and ’90s had ultimately failed the Valleys.
“As soon as the benefits ran out, a lot of the companies packed up and left. I don’t know if that was worse than them not coming at all – it raised people’s standards of living and expectations and took them away again.
“In some valleys the call centres have come in and then upped sticks to set up in India. We’ve got to play long-term. The short-term fix isn’t going to work.”
David Rosser, director of CBI Wales, said new technology could enable the service-sector economy to be less city-based, but many Valleys residents could lack the skills to capitalise on home-based working.
He added, “It takes quite a lot of convincing to persuade employers to put large numbers of service- sector jobs in the Valleys, which don’t have a tradition of service- sector employment.”
The JRF research, by academics from three universities, including Professor Kevin Morgan from Cardiff University, included surveys of job seekers. Most respondents in Lothian sought jobs in Edinburgh, because they regarded the city as part of their local area.
“Far fewer respondents in the central Valleys include Cardiff in their job search than recent commuting data might suggest.”
The report also adds that people’s social networks influenced their attitudes to types and locations of work.
In Lothian and South Yorkshire, job seekers had friends or relatives in employment who provided knowledge and experience.
“Respondents in the Valleys area [were] more likely to have unemployed or inactive people in their social network,” it says.

On February 7, Ieuan Wyn Jones, Minister for Economic Development, will address a Heads of the Valleys conference in Tredegar. Organised by the Institute of Welsh Affairs, the event will explore new ideas for the area and be followed by a research report. IWA director John Osmond said, “The Heads of the Valleys aren’t so integrated as other parts of the UK with more prosperous areas. We’ve got to get to grips with more sophisticated transport. In other parts of the world, light- rail systems operate fairly well.
“Also, the Heads of the Valleys are close to the Brecon Beacons national park. We need to do more in terms of the tourism potential and the attractiveness of the area to develop new settlements.”
He claimed that Wales tended to spread regeneration funding, such as the Communities First programme for the most deprived wards, too thinly.
“Every community in Wales has to have a slice of the action so nobody feels left out. We ought to be more mature and focus our limited resources more effectively.”
Rhondda MP Chris Bryant said, “I think we need to move towards much more full-time, free childcare. There’s just not enough childcare available.”
He called for stronger efforts to promote small businesses, instead of the grandiose schemes of the past. “My experience of the Welsh Development Agency was that they didn’t understand how the Valleys worked.”

No comments: