Jobs jackpot for Rhondda

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THE Rhondda, one of Britain's worst unemployment blackspots, has won the jobs jackpot - pounds 12m of Government grants have enticed an international company to move there, bringing hundreds of jobs.

But the move by the engineering group Fenner to concentrate production at Mardy in the Rhondda, has left a trail of bitterness in the north of England. Lured by lavish grant aid, the company is closing its Hull and Peterborough factories with the loss of 400 jobs.

The Welsh Development Agency (WDA) is spending pounds 7m on a factory for the company on the site of Mardy Colliery, the last pit in the Rhondda, which closed five years ago, throwing 400 out of work.

The Welsh Office is chipping in with pounds 5m of European regional grants to help the company relocate, and the Mid-Glamorgan Training and Enterprise Council plans to spend pounds 1m on a training centre alongside the new plant.

Eventually, the factory, which will make rubber and plastic mouldings for the motor industry, will employ around 500 - including 145 workers from a Fenner subsidiary, W A Thatcher, which will vacate a factory at Pontygwaith a few miles away.

For Rhondda, the factory is a godsend, with male unemployment in Mardy, a close-knit community of 3,000, at more than 25 per cent. But in Hull, the move has brought accusations that unemployment is being moved around the country in a macabre game of snakes and ladders.

Hull's deputy mayor, Councillor Jim Mulgrove, who chairs the council's economic regeneration committee, said grants were being used to poach jobs. For 16 years he was union convener at the Fenner factory in the Marfleet area of the city. "Cash is being used to bring jobs to one area and put people on the dole elsewhere," he said, adding that there was no net gain in employment overall in Britain.

John Prescott, Labour's deputy leader, in whose constituency the Fenner factory stands, agrees. He will hold discussions with workers' representatives tomorrow and meet Fenner management later in the week. "Taxpayers' money is being used to move jobs from one part of the country to another," he declared.

In Mid-Glamorgan, the county in which Mardy lies, 10 per cent of men earn less than pounds 159 a week gross, pounds 23 below the nation's average. The move to Wales could shave around pounds 500,000 a year from the wages bill, but Fenner executives have denied that this influenced their decision.

As well as bringing accusations over the poaching of jobs, this move could also mean awkward questions about the whole ethos of regional aid. For not only does the Welsh Secretary William Hague represent a Yorkshire constituency, Richmond, in the Commons, the Fenner factory at Peterborough is in the constituency of the Conservative Party chairman, Dr Brian Mawhinney.