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Thursday, 27 January, 2000, 13:49 GMT
Cornwall's last chance
by John Mair, BBC Plymouth
Tin mining and fish tins were once the backbone of the Cornish economy.
But on a windy day in Falmouth bay, it is hard to conceive of the county as the cradle of the first industrial revolution 200 years ago.
The mining jobs are gone, and the Cornish catch is smaller. Jobs like oyster dredging are not year round. Tourist jobs are in even shorter supply.
Cornwall has become England's underbelly. But now EU aid worth £300m could change all that.
Crofty 'is not dead'
Some of that money could be used to put new life into sites like South Crofty.
The tin mine is an industrial relic. It is nearly two years since tin was last mined here, and the signs of growing decay are everywhere.
Shop steward Mark Kaczmarek fought a long battle to keep the mine open. Two years ago he finally failed.
Mark insists that "Crofty isn't dead ... It's sleeping at the moment, and one day - if we don't build over the whole of the site - it has a good chance of re-opening".
Malcolm Harris, a colleague, says that when he drives past the mine to his new work place he feels that "I really want to go back".
But Crofty is dying, and crumbling, despite the 'heritage tours' around the site.
Drawing a line
David Giddings, the owner of South Crofty, paints a bleak picture: "The mine is flooding fairly rapidly at up to 1.5m gallons a day. And its now at about 180 fathoms down below the collar of the shaft."
"Everything significant underground in the mine has now gone including the main pumping station", he says.
South Crofty is not a mine anymore, but one of the biggest 'brown field' sites in the South West, eagerly eyed up by developers.
David Giddings hopes for an "exciting and important" future, with universities and other developments.
The dream of a fresh start is shared by the local council, Kerrier, which failed in its numerous attempts to safe Crofty as a mine.
Senior council officers now say it is time to draw a line under the mining past and move on.
The right kind of jobs
The industrial estates of Redruth and Camborne demonstrate what the future could look like. They offer jobs in light and heavy engineering.
Mark Kaczmarek's son Daniel has been lucky, securing a much sought after apprenticeship as a toolmaker. It is one of the new jobs which his father hopes the European money will bring to Cornwall.
But not any kind of jobs. The former miner believes that jobs in leisure and tourism "aren't any good to us".
Alan Bruce, the Deputy Chief Executive of Kerrier Council, agrees - to some extent: "What we should be looking for are high quality manufacturing and service sector jobs ... [which] are in short supply in Cornwall."
The grant lottery
Before the EU money came in, regional aid for Cornwall amounted to £3.3m a year. Getting a grant from the government, though, sometimes resembled a lottery.
Rodda's of Redruth makes clotted cream, Cornwall's best known export.
The farming roots are not quite forgotten, but a major part of their business is supplying mini-tubs for aircraft cream teas.
When the firm wanted to invest and expand, it hoped for some help from the government.
But instead of the £250,000 the firm had hoped for, the government turned down Rodda's application because the company was doing too well and the directors paying themselves too much.
Others have more luck.
Harman Pro Audio make professional speakers for pop concerts, cinemas and the like.
Two years ago they were offered just over £1m to relocate in Redruth.
John Macfarland, the firm's general manager, says that this "probably cemented the decision to move into Cornwall as opposed to moving elsewhere".
So far 104 jobs have been created, at a cost to the taxpayer of £80,000 per job - all paid at just above the national minimum wage.
No such support for Carebridge, which make air pumps and car washes for garage forecourts.
The company went from one to 120 workers in just 13 years, but despite numerous applications, they received the equivalent of £235 for each job created.
Managing Director Neil Troward says that when his last application for a grant was turned down, the firm had to reduce the workforce by a third to pay for the equipment needed to tackle the export market.
But the problems are more fundamental than giving grants to the right people.
Neil Troward says that if Cornwall wants to attract new business, the region needs to have "a road infrastructure".
"A lot of the road down here is single track road or not even dual carriageway. We've got air links which are probably the most expensive method of travelling anywhere in the world."
Even Objective One funding will not solve this problem. And there is another worry.The about £300m of European aid have to be matched by £300m raised here.
If this fails or if grant proposals are not submitted in good time, all may fall apart.
Russell Dodge, grant consultant with Business Location Services, says: "My nightmare scenario really is that we're not going to match the funding that Objective One provides Cornwall."
He predicts that the next six or seven years are Cornwall's last real chance to develop its economy, and says: "Make no mistake, we're not going to get it again".
John Berry of Cornwall Enterprise, is more upbeat, although he acknowledges that public sector money is just "an interim measure while we regenerate ourselves".
And he says: "It's private sector led businesses that make the real difference to Cornwall's future."
John Mair's report "Curdled cream, Cornish pasties?" will be broadcast on BBC 2 Southwest at 1930 on Thursday, 27 January
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