In Focus: The imbalance of power

23rd Jun 2011 Midlands

In Focus: The imbalance of power

The government's much-heralded claim to create a balanced economy doesn't hold much sway in Derby at present, says Sam Metcalf.

A week might be a long time in politics, but it's even longer on the local jobs front. Last week I wrote about how Derby was leading the way on the East Midlands retail front, according to one report; this week the city is reeling after a double whammy of bad news.

First came the depressing news that Bombardier had lost the contract to build 1,200 carriages for the new Thameslink route to German-based Siemens. Then, just a few days later, Barclaycard, which bought credit card side of Egg's business recently, said it was almost certain to close its Derby base, with the loss of over 650 jobs. For a city as small as Derby, such losses are hard to absorb.

Ironically, I was sat having coffee with John Forkin, the managing director of Marketing Derby, on Monday morning right opposite the huge Egg offices. He was, as ever, in ebullient mood after the local paper had splashed the latest Rolls-Royce contract win across its front page. However, he displayed a sense of foreboding about Bombardier being forced out of Derby, and obviously knew about the Barclaycard decision before it was announced.

Forkin complained about the government making the right noises about having a more balanced economy, but not putting those words into action, on a local level at least. It's hard to disagree with him.

David Cameron has repeatedly said he wants to rebalance the economy towards being more reliant on sectors such as manufacturing, and steer it away from being reliant on the public sector. Whether he’d be welcome in Derby at the moment remains to be seen.

Forkin, as ever, remains positive. If and when Egg does leave Derby, Pride Park will be left with some prime office and call centre space – the likes of which just aren’t being built at the moment. Getting a big-name inward investor there is another matter altogether, of course, but it at least gives the chance to create some good news out of the gloom.

Bombardier's future is altogether more clouded. Its site in Derby is huge and sprawling and would almost certainly have to levelled if the company decided enough was enough and shut up shop. Forkin, along with other city leaders have called for a meeting with David Cameron (which should be spicy), and are planning a visit to Berlin to Bombardier's head office to try and persuade them to keep faith in its Derby plant.

Some 3,000 people are employed at Bomardier in Derby. For that amount of people to be thrown out of work at once, along with the 650-odd at Egg could create a headache for Derby that it would find hard to cope with.

Not that it seems to bother Theresa Villiers, minister for Transport, too much. When the Bombardier decision was made, she said: "We are required by European law to judge bids entirely impartially on the basis of value for money for the tax payer.

"With a very careful analysis and assessment of the numbers, and with officials from the Department of Transport working closely with both bidders, it was apparent Siemens offered the best value for money."

Again, this goes against the grain of a balanced economy, something with George Cowcher, the chief executive of the Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire Chamber of Commerce was quick to point out: "You get these great big contracts in big lumps which therefore have to go out under European procurement rules for all companies

"It's not done in a way that is suitable for UK business.

"I have to say it's the arrogance of civil servants in London in many respects which has pushed through this way of procuring."

Meanwhile, Forkin himself said: "It's a crazy decision. I can't really understand it. We're talking about people's lives here - families around the area and young people coming into what is a very proud industry.

"These doors will now be closed.

"It's the British government once again taking the decision to spend British taxpayers' money on another country."

Clearly, anger is rising in Derby, and with some justification. And if it can happen in Derby, it can surely happen elsewhere in the East Midlands.

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