... but Surrey is still in clover

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FULL employment may be a politician's fantasy but in Guildford, Surrey, it is not far off.

With unemployment in the South-east at 2.8 per cent - the national average is 4.8 per cent - the region can boast good prospects for the job seeker. A far cry from places like Newcastle now reeling with unemployment at 7.4 per cent.

Yesterday, the industrial gases giant BOC warned that the brunt of its 500 job losses would be at Guildford and Aldershot, places unaccustomed to absorbing mass redundancy. While the company has not yet specified who, how many and when, those facing the axe may be better-placed than most to re-enter the jobs market, providing they gear up to the area's high-growth new technology industries.

Early indications are that it will be tiers of white-collar workers from the company's group and divisional headquarters at Guildford and Windlesham in Surrey, at its plants in Aldershot, Hampshire, and at its Sussex bases of Crawley, Eastbourne, Shoreham and Burgess Hill.

Guildford is still successfully weathering the economic downturn because it is a hot-bed of hi-tech growth industries that are at the cutting edge of niche markets. The latest Employment Service figures for the number of vacancies, for June, show that the town has 695 unfilled jobs and received some 515 new jobs. Prospects are by no means bleak.

The Employment Service is also geared up to handle mass redundancy and will slash the six-month qualification period for long-term benefits, training and work experience programmes for those affected. The department will even set up a special claims centre at the BOC site if asked by the firm.

The Surrey Research Park, home to BOC, shows the extent of the economic fortunes for the area. Its tenants specialise in digital communications, bio-technology, electronic engineering, pharmaceuticals and computer software, with others involved in the town's traditional oil industry base.

Malcolm Parry, manager of the research park, described job prospects as fair. "This is a university town and there are numerous retraining opportunities ... I would be looking to those areas which are going to expand such as computing, particularly niche markets."