Swansea has had little apart from the performance of its premiership football team to shout about in recent weeks.
“If you drive through the city centre, you can see businesses closing all the time,” says Nicky Symonds, branch officer for Unison, the public sector union. “The only good thing, to be honest, is that having our football team in the premiership does bring some business to the city on match days.”
However, on December 15 the government in Westminster announced a reorganisation of the UK’s Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, which has its headquarters in Wales’s second city.
Under the plan, 39 regional offices across the UK will close, with the loss of over 1,200 jobs. Swansea not only escaped the cull but won the promise of 400 additional jobs.
The announcement was too late to influence the Centre for Cities report, which describes Swansea as one of five conurbations “likely to face real challenges in 2012”.
The birthplace of Dylan Thomas, the city was once one of the world’s largest copper smelting centres. It had a thriving docks and Ford had a nearby plant making brakes and axles. But decades of deindustrialisation have hit the city hard. The city also suffers from a low skills base, with 15 per cent of the workforce having no formal qualifications.
The public sector in the city accounts for two in every five people in employment. Apart from DVLA, Swansea hosts the Welsh Land Registry office, two universities and the Morriston hospital.
However, the centre predicts that Swansea will have lost 5.6 per cent of its public sector jobs by the end of 2012; only Newport, also in south Wales, is projected to see a faster decline.
The city already has one of the UK’s lowest levels of employment at 61 per cent, compared with almost 80 per cent in Crawley.
And with Swansea suffering one of the worst rates of business start-ups and a poor record on patent registration – seen as a measure of innovation in the local economy – there is little sign the private sector will fill the employment gap.
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