This book is the fifth and latest in the Politics and Society in Wales series, which aims to examine politics and government in Wales in relation to devolution and recent social and economic change in Welsh society. The author sets out to examine the world of work, employment/unemployment, inward investment policies and the effects of globalization, and to take an essentially pragmatic approach to the development of appropriate and realistic employment policies for the south Wales valleys. Following the limited success of foreign inward-investment job-creation schemes in recent decades, in which too often the available workforce has had to fit into the jobs created, regardless almost of their previous skills and experience, the author explores an alternative approach: to start with the workers themselves, their personalities, attitudes, prejudices and aspirations, and to combine a knowledge of these with an understanding of the economic realities facing the area to build an appropriate employment policy.
Molly Scott Cato has studied the work and employment profile of the Rhondda Cynon Taff area, one of the poorest boroughs in the UK, blighted since the demise of the coal mining industry post-1979 by high unemployment and low wages. Most of the new jobs have low skill requirements and are low paid. There is a wealth of really interesting background information brought together in this part of the text. The author moves on to look at the history of inward investment in Wales. Somewhat surprising is the fact that US companies account for a larger share (44%) of foreign employment in Wales than those of any other origin.
Alas, not all foreign direct investments have been a success. Some Far East Asian electronics companies, attracted by the generous grants and subsidies from public funds and ready access to EU markets, have hit troubled times and this has led to the need for more critical and searching analyses of the wisdom of and longer-term prospects for these projects. The demise of the Korean company LG's television assembly and microchip semiconductor production plant near Newport provides a salutary lesson. LG was the largest all-time foreign investment, not just in Wales but in the EU. By the time the large specialised semiconductor part of the plant was completed, the world surplus of microchips resulted in cancellation of the project. The promised 6,100 jobs never materialised. By mid-2003 the TV assembly jobs had fallen from 2000 in the year 2000 to only 350. The initial projected cost to the public purse was to have been £40K per job created. The cost per job by 2003 was £l24K! (The average cost per job created in England was £4.6K at this time!) A large, highly specialised factory, not easily convertible to other uses, built at great public cost, on a prime green-field site, developed in opposition to local planning rules, has remained empty for 5 years. The tragedy of this is clear to see now, with hindsight. Worst of all, perhaps, is that this was public money, so determinedly denied to nationalised and local industries (except agriculture), that the author maintains could have been better invested in local, community-based businesses.
The book covers the history of inward investment in Wales in general and in Rhondda Cynon Taff in particular, its impact on the economy nationally and locally and its effect now on the local population. What is work? How do people feel about their role and work status? Assembly line jobs can never replace deep coal mining, but what could? The author presents the results of a detailed study of the work needs, preferences and attitudes, by survey and interview, of workers and unemployed in the RCT area. The lack of a local entrepreneur culture needs to be balanced against the success of the cooperative Tower Colliery, the last remaining deep mine in South Wales, saved from closure by the mine workers themselves. A detailed case study of Tower provides a fascinating account of this remarkable achievement, offering as it does a model for other ventures across Wales. This leads on in the final chapter to a thought-provoking analysis of the need for the development of new ways of thinking in the development of future employment and investment policies in Wales. This book should be compulsory reading for all politicians and policy-makers. It is recommended reading for those of us who elect and pay them!
It is possible to use this review for promotional purposes, but the following acknowledgement should be included: A review from www.gwales.com, with the permission of the Welsh Books Council.
Gellir defnyddior adolygiad hwn at bwrpas hybu, ond gofynnir i chi gynnwys y gydnabyddiaeth ganlynol: Adolygiad oddi ar www.gwales.com, trwy ganiatad Cyngor Llyfrau Cymru.