“Following the news of 259 potential job losses at Seven Seas, business editor for Hull Daily Mail, Catherine Lea reports on efforts to tackle unemployment in Hull …
Seven Seas’ proposal to close its Hull site is another devastating blow to the city’s economy.
The company’s 259-strong workforce now have the fear of redundancy hanging over them, as do their families and the communities in which they live and spend their wages.
It is not the first time a company has departed the city and shifted jobs elsewhere and, unfortunately, the signs suggests it will not be the last.
But what is anyone actually doing about Hull’s increasing unemployment issue.
We all know the global economy is suffering one of the biggest downturns in living memory while our Government tightens its purse strings to battle down a record national debt.
But surely there is more we can all do aside from pointing the finger of blame at others or, even worse, giving up the fight altogether.
One solution that has already had positive results in terms of saving jobs is the efforts of local MPs to cast their political differences aside and instead focus on working together to rescue the local economy.
Labour MP for Hull West and Hessle, Alan Johnson, and Conservative MP for Haltemprice and Howden David Davis have formed something of a formidable team in terms of mitigating redundancies at BAE Brough.
Their ability to empathise with and entertain affected workers has earned them the nickname “the Ant and Dec of politics”.
But more importantly, they have achieved results, saving jobs, rescuing workers from compulsory redundancy and finding alternative employment for others.
The same “cross-party working” method was employed by local MPs when, earlier this year, the caravan industry was rocked by plans to slap a 20 per cent tax on static caravans.
According to Mr Davis, it is an approach best described as “common sense”.
He said: “Alan and I are micro examples of what the whole region should be doing, which is getting all the parts pulling together in the same direction.
“When Alan and I first met to discuss what was happening at BAE, we genuinely thought that challenge might beat us but we have found jobs for most people as well as retaining some of the jobs there.
“Similarly with the caravan industry, when we first approached the Government to stress how seriously that would impact on jobs and the local economy, they looked at us as though we were bonkers.
“But the Government finally gave in when it realised its arithmetic didn’t add up, whereas ours did.
“People in one region will often cross a boundary to go to work, so it is common sense really.
“We all have a common argument and that is to save jobs.”
On Monday, just a day before the Seven Seas bombshell was dropped, McCain announced a possible 50 redundancies from its factory in Freightliner Road, meaning 310 families are this week facing an uncertain future.
Add this to the catalogue of job losses seen across East Yorkshire over the past year, from caravan workers to BAE Systems Brough, and the unemployment problem has arguably never been so pressing.
Mr Johnson said in order to save jobs, those trying to rescue them must first understand why the positions were at risk.
He said: “The important thing is we find practical ideas rather than gnashing and grinding our teeth at one another.
“McCain’s announcement it was changing shift patterns is a result of what is going on in the economy and it’s very hard for us to do anything about a lack of consumer confidence.
“But in examples such as Comet, which announced in February proposals to close its Hull call centre, there was an opportunity to see how those skilled staff could be assisted into employment elsewhere.
“We found another call centre that was expanding and, despite finding some really bureaucratic reasons why workers couldn’t go to another employer in the same building, we overcame them.
“It is about slogging away to find a solution.
“In terms of BAE, that was a result of Government cutbacks in defence but we are no longer talking of 900 job losses – this has been cut down considerably.”
Mr Johnson pointed to glimmers of good news on the jobs front, such as Hull being chosen for the national launch of new company Yesss Electrical, as well as efforts by existing employers to grow their workforce.
“I spoke with SGS The Maltings last Friday and they are doing a fantastic job of creating employment and skills in the city,” he said.
“The site director there, Barbara, has been amazing in terms of her fight to keep the company in Hull rather than going overseas and SGS now has its own apprenticeship scheme to provide young people with the skills needed to start a valuable career in the industry.
“We are determined not to just sit and wait casually for Siemens to come here, although we are working very hard to make that a reality.
“However, our number-one priority, as MPs, is to attract more jobs full stop.”
Siemens is indeed one of the city’s main focuses for job creation, but treating it like the golden goose which will solve all of our problems ignores vast opportunities to create much-needed jobs in other sectors.
Nevertheless, it would be a significant boost to Hull and has the potential to attract further investment and other companies.
Unfortunately, it seems some corners of the Government don’t quite understand just how vital this renewables investment is and have issued a series of mixed messages over the subject, prompting uncertainty for companies looking to invest in the UK.
It is an issue which has got under the skin of Lord Haskins, chair of the Humber Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).
As well as having an eloquence which appears to capture the imagination of all, from business people and politicians to the average man on the street, Lord Haskins is also not afraid to put the Government to task.
This week, he called a meeting in Westminster with local MPs to find a way to ensure the Government sends out a clear message that renewables investment is not just welcome but vital to the economy, both in Hull and the UK as a whole.
He said: “There is no question manufacturers have been delaying decisions because they don’t know what the Government’s position on renewables is and it is of great concern to us in terms of Siemens.
“There is lots going on behind the scenes to make sure Siemens comes here and if the Government clarifies its position I believe that will happen.
“Our job is to make sure the Government doesn’t wobble on the issue.”
One concern reiterated by many in terms of job preservation – and indeed most matters affecting the local economy – is the fact lots of people are doing lots of little things but there is a need for this work to join up and create a bigger impact.
In short, too many cooks are spoiling the region’s broth.
To overcome this, Lord Haskins will now be meeting with four local MPs each quarter – two from the north bank and two from the south bank – so that clear messages of what the area needs can be communicated back to Government and the results fed back to the LEP, where they can be acted upon.
“Rather than all arguing among ourselves, what we are trying to do is get a clear view from right across the Humber and all work together,” said Lord Haskins.
The councils also have a big part to play in ensuring local jobs are created as well as preserved.
Councillor Steven Bayes, portfolio holder for economic regeneration and employment at Hull City Council, said: “It is obviously worrying for the city for so many jobs to be at risk.
“We have a number of council officers which regularly meet with local businesses and I regularly go around the big employers and talk to them about their plans and what, if anything, the council can do to support them.”
Speaking about the shock announcement at Seven Seas, he said: “We already work in partnership with Job Centre Plus and will support where we can. We are seeking an urgent meeting with Seven Seas to see what the situation is and what can be done.”
Hull East MP Karl Turner said: “The news Seven Seas may leave Hull is not only shocking but sad.
“I spoke to the company’s managing director, John Redman, at length to see whether there was anything I could do.
“Unfortunately, I was told that possible withdrawal from Hull was simply as a result of the double recession and a failing economy.
“I will be meeting with Mr Redman to look at the business case and understand why the company is taking such drastic measures and whether this terrible situation can be mitigated in any way.” “