20,000 Jobs? Really?

09Jun11

I’m old and grumpy enuff to remember the last time a Conservative government tried to kick-start some enterprise in Bristol. It wasn’t all bad. We got a nice bit of road out of it which is handy if you’re trying to get from north Bristol to Bath. But the Bristol Development Corporation (as was) didn’t live up to the hype, and nor will our new Enterprise Zone.

The Bristol Development Corporation (BDC) was set up in 1989, against the furious opposition of Bristol’s Labour-run City Council. The idea was to give a private company planning powers and various financial incentives to bring new buildings and jobs to a big area of derelict former industrial land. The most visible legacy, aside from the St Philips Causeway “spine road” is that shopping centre with the Showcase Cinema and the big bowling place and the Krispy Kreme doughnut place and …. Mmmmm! Krispy Kreme! …

Where was I? Oh, right, the BDC actually created comparatively few jobs; the number can be disputed. A government report from the late 1990s claimed it was almost 5,000, but they were a long time in coming. For a long time it created none at all, while other Urban Development Corporations elsewhere in the country claimed to have created loads.

Most of the jobs Bristol BDC did create, however, were in retail and leisure, which is to say people were employed selling stuff which had mostly been imported to people who could only afford it thanks to cheap credit. Nothing gets made or invented here, nothing is created for sale to the wider world. Aside from some mostly low-paid jobs, it contributes little to the local economy.

Now being sensible about all this, it’s plain that the Council Labour group opposed it just because it was the brainchild of a Tory government, and because it took planning powers over a chunk of the city away from the Council. On the other hand this really was a wasteland where nothing was going to happen otherwise, so two cheers for BDC. Better than nothing. Way better than nothing. Seriously, what were the Labour group going to do with it anyway?

Now we’re to have an Enterprise Zone around Temple Meads, Temple Quay and on for a bit out the Bath Road. This was the area which was always on the cards, and it was announced with all due fanfare yesterday, with claims it might create up to 20,000 jobs. The Post has a decent summary here.

Like BDC, this will probably be more good than bad. The transport hub at Temple Meads, if it happens, will be very useful, and the high speed broadband (if it really is that good) will be very attractive to a lot of the media/new media types the Zone will be trying to attract. And anything that sorts the old sorting office gets everyone’s vote.

But a couple of observations.

First off, be very very very wary of statistics about “creating” jobs. One of the things very likely to happen here is that it will be such an attractive offer for some businesses that they will simply relocate their jobs here from elsewhere. Watch, for instance, if the BBC relocate some/all of their Bristol operations from Whiteladies Road. Yeah, be good to have a “media hub”, which almost certainly will create some new jobs, but maybe not as many as you might think.

The second thing, though, is the strong whiff of easy solutions. Ultimately, this area will just be another bunch of offices for people with lots of academic qualifications doing office stuff. Nothing wrong with that; a lot of it will be high-value work and there’s no question that it’ll do more for Bristol’s economy than the BDC ever did.

But if Bristol genuinely, honestly cared about creating lots of new, sustainable jobs for people at all levels, if Bristol genuinely fancied itself as a leader in technological innovation and green energy … That zone would have been at Avonmouth, where there’s plenty of derelict land and a nearby workforce with growing rates of unemployment. Just imagine what you could do here in this vast industrial area with plenty of land going spare (and no real environmental or conservation issues). It could build on what’s already there to become a powerhouse of green energy generation, manufacturing and distribution. Really getting behind Avonmouth would have been a truly bold, brave and visionary thing to do. But frankly, official Bristol doesn’t “get” Avonmouth in the same way it doesn’t “get” aerospace. Something icky and dirty that goes on up the road out of town. And done by lots of working class men, by the way.

Of course Avonmouth and some other areas are to have some sort of eneterprise zone lite status, so maybe it’ll still happen. But for now, the message is that we’re sticking with that old-school office-job model rather than adapting to the very changed circumstances of the 21st century economy.

It could well be that building offices is going to go out of fashion sooner than we think.

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2 Responses to “20,000 Jobs? Really?”

  1. 1 TBB

    Top post. I wanted engineering in Avonmouth too.

    Can’t get that excited about a big telephone line and a load of iPhonies producing corporate marketing myself.

    Don’t believe there’s a future in it either. We need to make things. Value comes from human ingenuity in producing stuff not from ideas/knowledge/creativity and all that other pish in isolation. It all smells of financial services all over again.

  2. 2 Art of the Impossible

    “Just imagine what you could do here in this vast industrial area with plenty of land going spare (and no real environmental or conservation issues).”

    And very few pesky whining greenies either, eh? 😉

    Let’s face it, industry just doesn’t fit Bristol’s self-image does it?

    Industry might mean nasty big rough men, sweating over their pig-iron or whatever it is they sweat over. Far too dangerous. For hundreds of years the city has been pleased to employ nice people in clean clothes and offices and have any sweating done in foreign fields, preferably by foreign people.


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