The Sterling Crisis: The profits .. and the losses: The fight for survival

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The Independent Online
'IT USED to be dead easy to get jobs here. But now, so much on offer is trash,' said Peter Sykes, scanning the vacancy board at Swindon JobCentre.

Mr Sykes used to earn his living in the building trade but work dried up last year as development in the Eighties' boom town slowed to a trickle.

As recently as 1989, local unemployment stood at an enviable 2.5 per cent. Yesterday's jobless figures revealed 8.2 per cent of the population of Swindon and its surrounding area is now officially seeking work. The council believes that in the town itself more than 13 per cent of people are jobless.

The Wiltshire town, synonymous with the railway industry until the mid-1980s, is now awash with empty buildings. Company relocations that helped offset the loss of railway jobs have now dried up - leaving a million square feet of empty office space and nearly 1.5 million sq ft of factory space on the market.

As the holder of a 'substantial mortgage', Wednesday's news that interest rates had shot up by 5 per cent 'put the frighteners' on Brian McVeigh. 'The only comfort was that my rates change on an annual basis, I wouldn't have had to have found more cash immediately.'

Mr McVeigh, 37, is an entrepreneur who runs the Rockin' Emporium near the town centre, selling vintage second-hand clothes. He has seen so many of his friends who set up in business in the Eighties 'go under' that he needs no reminding of the havoc a sharp rise in interest rates can wreak.

Back at the JobCentre, Keith Willsher signs on more than a year after gaining his degree in economics and politics. He took a job as a voluntary worker in Africa on graduating. 'I thought my return to England would coincide with the end of the recession. But you've just got to look at the figures to see that it's not lifting,' he said.

But Mr Willsher is not desperate to find work. He has got a place on a two- year post-graduate course lined up for next month.

The interest rate drama has also helped kill consumer confidence, according to Kate Holmes who runs the Magnum Wineshop in Swindon old town. She's just had the 'deadest week' she can remember since setting up shop 11 years ago. 'No one seems to know what's happening with interest rates so they are hanging fire,' she said.

Roderick Wightman, a partner in estate agents Dreweatt and Neate, observes that uncertainty over interest rates is damping down any signs of confidence.

He estimates that Swindon prices have dropped by 30 per cent since their late Eighties peak.

'Company relocations used to help property turnover. They have virtually evaporated. There's a lot of uncertainty about. We've had a purchaser who's instructed his solicitor to put everything on hold till we know how the French vote goes at the weekend.'

Lawrence Sarson, jobless for the past two years, doesn't fancy being a 'jovial Santa' over Christmas at a local store. At 36, he's too young anyway - only those aged 50-plus need apply. Nor does he relish the prospect of selling disinfectant wipes to hotels and guesthouses on a commission-only basis.

'There's so many crap jobs on offer,' said Mr Sarson, who wants to drive lorries and is currently living in a hostel for the homeless.

It is a new problem for Swindon, where more than 340 families are housed in bed-and-breakfast. Three years ago there were virtually none.

(Photograph omitted)