Page last updated at 12:58 GMT, Friday, 9 January 2009

Brown tour: View from the regions

Gordon Brown is on a three-day tour of England and Wales to explain what the government is doing to help people and businesses through the economic downturn. BBC reporters give the lowdown on the state of industry in the areas he is visiting.

SWINDON

The prime minister seems to like Swindon. He was here in October, which for a Number 10 visit is starting to look like a regular date. But since then so much has changed it seems a lifetime ago.

First there was the meltdown in the motor trade. Swindon was built on the railway, but now Honda is the big paymaster here, employing 5,000 people directly and hundreds more in small suppliers. In November, car sales collapsed - 36% down on the previous year.

Honda announced a two month shutdown, which starts in February. Then there was the "Assisted Leaving Scheme" for staff who had had enough. The company insists there are no redundancies, and they will tough it out, but Swindon is certainly in the front line of the recession in the car trade.

And then we had the sales. Swindonians have always loved a bargain, so much so that the town's House of Fraser store was recently converted into a permanent discount outlet. In the run-up to Christmas Swindon, like the rest of the UK, was plastered in Sales Stickers. But alongside the national bankruptcies, Woolworths and Zavvi, other local retailers have gone under.

Through it all, the UK's biggest building society watches, from the town's southern fringes. The Nationwide was widely criticised in the past for remaining a mutual, scorning the advances of the City. When first the Bradford & Bingley, then the Halifax had to be bailed out by the government, The Nationwide felt vindicated. The Society has now stopped cutting its rates any further, insisting it has a duty to savers to keep rates up, whatever the Bank of England might think.

Swindon is what analysts call a bellweather: on all measures, it is average. So its average house prices have dropped 16% in the last year; its unemployment figures have risen, and its banks are still not lending. Will things improve before Mr Brown makes a return visit?

Dave Harvey, BBC West Country Business Correspondent

WALES
At the outset of the economic downturn there was a feeling that Wales would be better equipped than many other parts of the UK to deal with its impact.

More people work in the public sector in Wales than in other parts of the country and the financial services sector is still relatively small.

However, what has taken everyone by surprise has been the speed with which manufacturing has been hit.

There has been a glut of job loss announcements affecting factories making a wide range of goods from car parts to cosmetics.

There are also serious concerns about the state of the steel industry.

Just down the road from where Gordon Brown will be on Friday in Newport is the Corus-owned Llanwern steel plant employing 1,200 people. Last month it emerged there's virtually no production underway in the entire site.

Nick Servini BBC Wales Business Correspondent


NORTH WEST OF ENGLAND

With Jaguar Land Rover, Vauxhall, Leyland and Bentley 23,000 are directly employed in the North West's automotive sector. That figure rises to 50,000 if you count indirect supply chain jobs. As car sales slump, concerns mount.

There is a growing campaign to encourage the Government to offer financial support to Jaguar Land Rover.

Not a bail out say supporters, but a 1bn pound loan to help the company out, in what the company's chief executive describes as a ''once in a century crisis."

''Clearly there will be job losses,'' added David Smith, just how many depends on the political pressure they can apply.

Another significant sector for the North West - finance. The source of the current crisis. MBNA is the biggest employer in Chester. Any day now its 4,000 staff will hear if and how the company's plans to shed 35,000 jobs worldwide will hit them.

And for every corporate institution that is feeling the bite, there are countless small businesses. Not 200 yards from where the Cabinet is meeting stands the Porter Brothers building.

They have made flags for 100 years including the flag carried by Scott of the Antarctic to the South Pole, and those draped over the coffins of Winston Churchill and Princess Diana. on Wednesday it became the latest victim of the credit crunch.

As for the city? It is riding on the crest of a wave that was its hugely successful year as European Capital of Culture. As investment dries up elsewhere, it has seen 1bn pounds of private money pumped into the Liverpool One shopping centre. Liverpool may be in a better position than most to face the crisis head on.

By Jayne Barrett, Economics correspondent, BBC North West Tonight


WEST MIDLANDS

"If you think things look bad now, you just wait until the end of March."

A senior backbench MP's gloomy assessment of the West Midlands' economic outlook comes with the debate still spectacularly unresolved over whether or not Jaguar Land Rover should get a government "bail out".

Jaguar Land Rover currently employ 15,000 workers, but with Land Rover UK sales down 30% against last year, the chief executive is warning the 600 redundancies recently announced will not be the last.

And in North Staffordshire's Potteries 1,100 workers at Waterford Wedgwood fear they too could soon be added to the grim toll of redundancies now that the company has gone into administration.

Local MPs are calling for the government to set up a Task Force like the one established after MG Rover collapsed four years ago, to help redundant workers retrain.

By Patrick Burns, Political Editor, BBC Midlands


EAST MIDLANDS

It is no surprise that Gordon Brown should first chose to visit Rolls Royce.

The Derby-based aero engine manufacturer is one of the success stories of the East Midlands and the UK.

Rolls Royce employs 20,000 people in the region, but thousands of more jobs in locally-based component firms depend on it.

The company recently announced a flurry of new orders of its Trent aero engines for a Middle East airline.

But even this blue-chip global brand has made redundancies. Some 140 jobs are to go at its Derby-based testing facility.

Car giant Toyota, which employs more than 4,000 people at its UK car plant near Derby, has come up with a novel approach to the downturn.

It has halted some weekend shifts. But rather than laying off hundreds of workers, it is retraining them so the car maker can take full advantage of the eventual upturn.

The East Midlands is now more reliant on manufacturing than any other English region.

Last year, a succession of job losses in a range of businesses - from Capital Bank in Nottingham to Fenland Foods, the Grantham-based ready meal producers - caused alarm.

Gordon Brown visited the East Midlands then, to talk up how the region's growing bio-science and technology sector would provide jobs and prosperity for the future.

By John Hess, Political Editor, BBC East Midlands



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