Mark Leftly: What Bale's Batman tells us about unemployment

The former Bournemouth resident isn't the only person to leave his home town
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The Independent Online

Recently I visited Bournemouth, the seaside town where I grew up. It's that kind of provincial area where Woolworths used to thrive in the good ol' days, so I figured it would make a suitable scene-setter to our main feature this week.

Please forgive the self-indulgence, but something else struck me on this visit and that was the real fear there over unemployment. JP Morgan may be a global bank, but it is difficult to overstate its importance to Bournemouth. With 5,000 back office staff, the bank is the biggest private-sector employer in Dorset. The Daily Echo in Bournemouth describes JP Morgan as "the bedrock of the local financial services industry", and the local university estimates the bank contributes about £200m to the town's economy.

JP Morgan is reportedly reviewing its operations and rumours persist that there is a chance that the Bournemouth offices will be shut down. The prospect of the £2.5bn bank levy has apparently angered JP Morgan executives and they might well move major business units overseas.

Bournemouth is prosperous and middle class, so it was reasonably cocooned from the worst economic disasters of the 1980s. Thatcherism's unforgivable but now often glossed-over legacy, structural unemployment, didn't take grip there to the extent of the manufacturing and industrial hubs of Wales and the North.

In Britain's case, structural unemployment meant those who lost their jobs, mainly in manufacturing and industry, didn't have the skills for the new services industries that were developing. Miners, for example, were rarely retrained to work in offices, even if such work existed in those communities. Families were devastated, and, as the 1997 film The Full Monty showed, a whole generation of working-class men in particular was cruelly emasculated.

I fear that there is a real chance of this problem returning, though this time the services nature of our economy means that it could spread into middle and southern England.

The JP Morgan case is an example of how modern middle-class areas have become dangerously dependent on just a handful of major employers and, indeed, a cost-cutting public sector. There are relatively few employment options so provincial towns inevitably suffer a brain drain. The majority of my friends from school and those I hear about on the grapevine swapped Bournemouth for London. This country has become like France, the capital so dominating everywhere else economically and to the detriment of historically powerful urban areas.

Some sought their fortunes even further afield: one blond-mopped fella a few years above me went all the way to Gotham City and made some serious cash by dressing up in a rubber suit and rescuing a bevy of beauties, including Katie Holmes and Maggie Gyllenhaal.

Of those friends who remain or have returned to the stunning golden beaches, I include an occupational therapist, a policeman, a teacher – all public sector workers – and someone who was made redundant by JP Morgan last year.

If JP Morgan does decide to leave – and it is not the only bank that is disgusted by the coalition's incoming levy – 5,000 skilled office workers could end up on the dole. OK, some might be willing to relocate, but most are unlikely to agree to uprooting their lives to move abroad.

Bournemouth benefits from a strong tourism economy, but that is largely seasonal. Stag and hen parties can prop up the town's finances for only so long, while those at JP Morgan are likely to be deemed overqualified for many of these jobs.

Fair enough, other big employers could swoop in, recognising that such a skilled employee base has come on the market. But given the general lack of business confidence, I wouldn't bet on that. Maybe workers will try their luck in London; that would only be to the detriment of the town's economy or their health, should they choose to go on the four-hour round-trip commute every day.

I'm not picking on my home town: for one thing, JP Morgan has told staff that such reviews happen regularly, so the bank could well stay for decades to come. But I do think this is an effective case study on what is happening outside the London bubble.

On a side note, it shows how dangerous the bank levy is to the regions. It should not be glibly praised as part of a wider clampdown on fat cats in Canary Wharf and the Square Mile.





Kloppers is ready for a big game hunt. Antelopes had better watch out

Marius Kloppers you old devil, welcome back. The teak tough Afrikaaner should be made the patron saint of financial journalism. No one chief executive has given us juicier albeit as yet unconsumed deals to write about over the past few years.

The BHP Billiton boss, who chews his gum like a lion feasting on a particularly meaty antelope, is hunting once more. In 2008 he chased after rival Rio Tinto in a deal that would have created a $360bn mining giant. As markets deteriorated, Kloppers wisely pulled back, earning a great deal of praise that his finely honed deal-making instincts did not overpower his common sense.

It was interesting listening to bankers involved on the deal at the time. About a week before Kloppers pulled the plug, members of Rio's defence team changed their tune and suggested that a deal might actually be beneficial after months denouncing the move.

Kloppers knew that change in tone just proved that the balance of the deal had shifted in Rio's favour. Time to pull out. This time he's going hostile. Having seen him speak bluntly and fiercely at several entertaining media briefings I reckon that will mean very hostile indeed.

The prey is Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan, the world's biggest fertiliser producer. As is usual in this game, the offer – the best part of $40bn – has been denounced by the board as "grossly inadequate". One day, admittedly far, far into the future, I hope to see a board statement approving a "perfectly adequate" opening offer.

However, an antelope isn't going to survive by just saying it doesn't want to be devoured. And Kloppers is hungry. The 47-year-old was brought in to do a big deal, his reputation built on being a key member of the team behind the merger of Billiton and BHP in 2001. The lion will soon have the antelope by the throat.



Margareta Pagano is away

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