Investment is needed now

The announcement of the closure of the Jus-Rol factory in Berwick was yet another body blow to the fabric and economic wellbeing of our community. It would be sad and disappointing if, as a result, there was little more than hand-wringing, cries of despondency and compassionate gesturing from politicians and representatives.

By The Newsroom
Friday, 26 February, 2016, 08:00

In the current climate, it would be wrong to suggest this is just about the unfortunate workers at Jus-Rol: it is about the number of workplace opportunities in general, opportunities that will always form the bedrock of economic viability and sustainability in any township.

Let us not be coy about this – a wage bill of about £4-5million will be stripped out of our community to be subsidised, no doubt, by central government in the form of allowances and benefits unless other jobs are found.

The principal question is why is Berwick so dependent on a dwindling number of workplaces? Is it just a matter of time before another major workplace announces the closure of its doors?

It is apparent from the recent coverage concerning Jus-Rol that some people believe Berwick has never recovered from the closure of Pringle. That closed in 1998. Just imagine, someone in 2034 saying that ‘this town has never got over the closure of Jus-Rol.’ What a sad indictment of the town’s political will, competence and wherewithal that would be.

Berwick has suffered decades of political ineffectiveness, with no viable options, economic impetus or success. It is hoped that Anne-Marie Trevelyan’s political posturing around the EU will not deflect from more pressing local issues. Principles are one thing, financial pragmatism is quite another.

Whilst the establishment of a taskforce as a result of the closure of Jus-Rol might well prove to be a justified response to support those 256 employees, it will not fulfil the medium and long-term needs of Berwick. It certainly would be a completely inadequate response if its mission is to prepare workers for jobs that don’t exist.

The added news that Berwick North has seen the creation of 34 new companies should be seen in the light of two things: that these new companies will not bridge the gap in employment opportunities and that they come about despite the efforts of our politicians, not as a result. In fact, it would be misleading and disingenuous of any politician to use this as a vindication of any Government policy or strategy.

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The Northern Powerhouse served as a vote-winning exercise prior to the election, but did not even create a whisper of opportunity in this part of the world. We are neither part of England nor Scotland – a part of the nation, but with the political status of the Marie Celeste.

And yet, this town has it all: a harbour, mainline connections and, notwithstanding the bungling efforts to dual the A1, a form of bridgehead to Scotland and the South. What incentives are being offered? What money has been allocated? What funds have been designated? What entrepreneurs and manufacturers have been contacted?

After recent visits from high-profile politicians, what is on offer? Will the taskforce form part of a wider economic strategy, or will it be a sticking plaster to show some form of governmental empathy? What is the plan Anne-Marie Trevelyan?

Berwick cannot suffer the economic loss that will come about with yet another closure and, if people’s opinions are to be taken at face value, what substitute is forthcoming as a result of the closure at Pringle a full 18 years ago?

Would it not be better to use future intended wage subsidies on investment today?

Stephen F Green