THE PEOPLE of Shotton in north Wales yesterday registered their fury at being used by John Major as an example of a community which recovered from the closure of a major employer.
Since the Shotton steelworks closed in 1980 many of the men made redundant have never worked again, according to those who lost their jobs. Former steelworkers say that much of the industry brought into the area and sited at Deeside industrial park has consistently refused to employ anyone over 40.
John Barker, a 55-year-old former crane driver at the works, estimated that more than 60 per cent of the steelworkers failed to find employment.
Defending the decision to make 30,000 miners redundant by next March, the Prime Minister said after the Birmingham summit on Friday that he had recently visited the site of the old steelworks where 10,000 jobs had been 'lost in a single day'. He added: 'There is now a modern industrial estate there providing secure, permanent employment for the people who once worked in those Shotton steelworks.'
Mr Major said they were working in 'mainly medium-tech and hi-tech, exporting all over the world, providing a rich diversity of employment for the people who work there'. When the works had been closed down there had been 'misery and despair'. Now there was 'a better prospect for the future as a result of what has subsequently happened. That is what we will seek to do in the areas so badly affected by these closures'.
Mr Barker said that businesses moving into the area often brought many of their own employees with them and required 'young nimble-fingered people, not men who had worked in the steelworks all their lives'.
Barry Jones, Labour's spokesman on Welsh affairs whose constituency covers Shotton, conceded that work had been brought into the area by the 'interventionist' Welsh Development Agency, but pointed out that the Tories had voted against setting it up while in opposition in the 1970s.
Unemployment among men in the area after the closure of the steel plant was about 15 per cent. It now stood at nearer 10 per cent. But the dole queue was lengthening and the Point of Ayr pit nearby was one of the collieries earmarked for closure, Mr Jones said, adding that the Government was also considering withdrawing the assisted area status Shotton enjoyed. 'To this day some of our council estate streets are enclaves of long-term unemployment since the closure of the steelworks.'
Mr Jones said since the plant closed, 1,100 jobs had disappeared at the Brymbo works near Wrexham which also produced steel, a Courtaulds plant had closed, about 500 aerospace jobs had gone along with 200 redundancies in the cement industry and 300 in the garment making industry. 'I am sickened at the references to Shotton by the Prime Minister and his Cabinet ministers who are sheltering under its name. Presumably they are trying to save their political skins.'
Shotton's closure was seen as unjust because it was a productive plant which had broken output records, he said. 'Shotton has picked itself up off the floor, but the 3,000 people unemployed locally will tell you there's a long way to go.' Local politicians expect a 'convenient' announcement this week that a pounds 1.3bn gas plant in the area is to go ahead.
Ken Latham, 69, a former Shotton worker, has four sons, two of whom are on the dole and the others work outside the area. 'Both my son-in-laws are out of work and one of them says that he might as well take his bed down to the JobCentre. Politics don't come into it. Mr Major has got it all wrong. The closure has affected my family very badly.'
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