WORRYING new employment statistics have sparked a fresh call for economic assistance to be given to the area hit by the closure of Northumberland’s biggest private sector employer.
Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery has renewed his plea for ministers to extend the county’s new Enterprise Zone to include Ashington and the site of the Rio Tinto Alcan aluminium smelter at Lynemouth.
The smelter is closing with the loss of 500 jobs, and 2,000 more in the supply chain, and Mr Lavery says latest figures show that 26 people are now chasing every job vacancy in the former Wansbeck Council area.
He says this is one of the worst job shortages in the UK, and reinforces the need for the Enterprise Zone to be extended from its current sites around the River Blyth estuary.
In May Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander encouraged Mr Lavery to make the case for an extension, and promised that the Government would listen very carefully to any arguments put forward.
Five Enterprise Zone sites have been agreed in Northumberland, three in Blyth and two on the other side of the River Blyth at East Sleekburn.
They offer inward investors a combination of financial incentives and simplified planning procedures aimed at helping to create jobs and stimulate economic development.
Mr Lavery said: “We need to re-double our efforts to persuade the Government to widen still further the scope of the North East Enterprise Zone to include an area around Ashington and the site of the Alcan smelter.
“It is imperative that ministers support a further extension to the zone to give firms the vital incentives they need to move in and create the jobs we so badly need. To have 26 people chasing every job is just not acceptable.”
County council leader Jeff Reid said he was not convinced by the case for extending the Enterprise Zone. “I am pretty sure that support would be found from somewhere if someone came along and was interested in re-using the Alcan site. However, making it part of the Enterprise Zone might not be the way forward, because I believe there is plenty of acreage available on the sites already included.”
Coun Reid said he hoped the sites around the Blyth Estuary would eventually bring 500 to 600 new jobs. “We hope that estimate is on the low side and having the National Renewable Energy Centre in Blyth is an obvious plus,” he added.
Next week the county council’s executive will agree actions aimed at getting the Enterprise Zones sites up and running.
Local Development Orders are to be published to bring in simplified planning processes for sites at the former Bates Colliery in Blyth and East Sleekburn.
If approved by the Secretary of State, the orders will mean companies wishing to set up on the sites will not have to seek planning permission to build things like offices, research and development facilities, storage and distribution centres and small-scale shops and restaurants.
Head of development services, Karen Ledger, says the three sites have been chosen to lead the way because they are considered most likely to attract developer interest in the short to medium term