Hartlepool, with one of the highest unemployment rates in the North-east, views the cries of anguish over job losses in the area with a certain weary cynicism. Some 3,600 redundancies have been announced in the past 10 days. The latest is 670 jobs to go at the crane-makers Grove Worldwide, just up the coast in Sunderland.
If Hartlepool does not figure in the latest list it is only because the jobs were not there in the first place. Though a heritage makeover in the old docks has removed an air of dereliction from the town centre, unemployment has remained stubbornly above 11 per cent, nearly twice the national average. Hartlepool expected better of a New Labour government.
After all, its own MP is Peter Mandelson, now Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. Tony Blair's northern home is only 15 miles away at Trimdon, in the neighbouring Sedgefield constituency.
The Prime Minister warned the North-east it would get no special favours, but even so, says Peter Baron, editor of the Hartlepool Mail, people thought there had been a favourable shift. "Their own MP was one of the most powerful men in Britain and maybe it would have some positive knock-on effect on unemployment." But it has not happened. Though Mr Mandelson is credited with doing his bit to encourage the American conglomerate Crest to locate in Hartlepool and create 6,000 hi-tech jobs, the plans unveiled last year now look like a chimera. The site for the pounds 2m development is near the Samsung electronics factory, another disappointing saviour. Samsung talked of 3,000 employees by the year 2000 but never reached half that and is making redundancies.
Looking around the Headland, the oldest part of Hartlepool, a mix of council houses and older terraces above the docks, Allan Hargreaves, a retired youth worker, corrects the impression that this is a pocket of single mums with young children. "The blokes are away double-glazing the rest of England or laying pipes in Ireland. There doesn't seem to be any home-grown industry coming along to provide steady work and so they're either away or on the dole."
Appearances can be deceptive. The hangar-like structure on the waterfront is for fabricating sections for oil rigs but work there is sporadic and the jobs surprisingly few compared to the vast size of the building.
Shipbuilding on Teesside ended decades ago, a once- mighty steel industry is reduced to a pipe mill existing on its next order and the fishing has been shrunk by quotas.
Brian Pearce, 22, a mate of Colin Temple, is going to try for a job as a part-time fireman on the Headland - a rare opportunity to work near home.
Hartlepudlians are proud of their town and touchy about the Andy Capp image created by its most famous son, the cartoonist Reg Smythe. Millions of pounds of public money have been poured in, building homes and redeveloping the old docks area. But the anomaly for Hartlepool is that the facelift has not been followed by jobs.
At the heart of the renamed Historic Quay, the masts of the 1817 frigate HMS Trincomalee rise above a pastiche of old dock buildings. Inside, visitors are taken back to a scene of waterfront bustle when the young men of the Headland did not have to search for work the length of England.Reuse content