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Page last updated at 14:53 GMT, Thursday, 23 October 2008 15:53 UK

Economic gloom piles up

Nick Watson
Nick Watson
Producer
Politics Show West Midlands

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Other news... elected Mayor of Stoke-on-Trent, Mark Meredith, speaks to the Politics Show after voters decided to abolish his job in a referendum.

Millions of bricks stacked high in a Midlands yard are a towering testament to the depths of the downward spiral in the economy.

They were intended for the building trade but the collapse in the housing market means that, at the moment at least, nobody wants them.

Wienerberger, a giant in the brick-making industry, says there are 70 million bricks at its premises at Hartlebury, in Worcestershire - enough to build about 14,000 homes.

If ever you wanted a visual indicator of just how weak the construction industry is at the moment then this has surely got to be it.

To Let sign
A sign of the times

Market shift

Things are not much better up the road in nearby Kidderminster, where a local estate agent has just had to close a branch it had only opened in January 2007.

"There is no doubt that property transactions have dropped over the past six months," David Jones of Nock Deighton told the Kidderminster Shuttle newspaper.

"In the first six months, we exceeded our targets and things were great but, from June last year, there was a definite and quick shift in the market," he added.

Problems have also hit one of the town's biggest employers - the yacht builders Sealine - which recently shed 300 jobs with the closure of its sites at Hartlebury and Burntwood in Staffordshire.

Boats under wraps
Sealine's boats are being left high and dry

Icelandic banks

Managing Director, Steve Coultate said: "It is with great regret that we are planning these changes, but they are necessary, given the current leisure marine market conditions and economic environment."

In fact, Kidderminster has become somewhat emblematic of the current economic downturn with the local council also losing a stack of money in the Icelandic banking crisis.

Wyre Forest District Council, which covers Kidderminster and the neighbouring towns of Stourport-on-Severn and Bewdley, had a total of £9m invested in three different Icelandic banks - money which has now been frozen.

The money represents around one third of the council's total investments.

Rapid outcome

Council Leader, John Campion
We will continue to lobby the government at a high level for the early return of our deposits
John Campion

In fact the government is so worried about the situation that it has sent in financial experts to help the Conservative-controlled authority deal with the crisis.

"We will continue to lobby the government at a high level for the early return of our deposits and work with the Local Government Association to achieve a rapid and successful outcome to the situation," said Council Leader, John Campion.

Our reporter Susana Mendonça has been to north Worcestershire to find out what the political fall-out will be and she's joined live by the town's Independent MP, Dr Richard Taylor, and prospective parliamentary candidate for the Conservatives, Mark Garnier.

Also in the programme ...

Now here's a staggering and rather depressing stat for you.

There are 440,000 people of working age in the West Midlands with absolutely no formal qualifications.

In fact, we West Midlanders have the worst record in England when it comes to passing exams.

A total of 15% of people of working age in our region (that's age 19-64 year-olds) have no exam passes - the highest rate of any English region.

More to life

Students taking exams
The best way is to start when you are young

Of course there may be more to life than passing exams - having no qualifications does not necessarily mean we have no skills, but the figure is worrying.

In some parts of the region there are even higher concentrations of people without a certificate to their name.

In Wolverhampton, 30% have no formal qualifications - that is 40,000 workers, in Sandwell it is 26% (40,000), Walsall 25% (35,000) and Stoke-on-Trent 23% (35,000).

These figures stand out in the findings of The West Midlands Regional Observatory's State of the Region report.

Failure

The Observatory has nothing to do with astronomy - its job is to help the region "get access to better information".

In conclusion they say that: "Skill levels within the working age population are still far too low, particularly in places such as the Black Country, Birmingham and Stoke-on-Trent".

Our reporter Colin Pemberton asks why the situation is so bad, what is being done about it and have the politicians failed?

The Politics Show for the West Midlands, with Jon Sopel and Sarah Falkland on Sundays at 12:00 GMT on BBC one

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