Coventry at work: Why we're tracking Coventry

St Michael's Cathedral, Coventry Coventry was heavily bombed in World War II. The cathedral had to be rebuilt.

Coventry is a city with a history of renewal, but how will it fare in the face of the biggest spending cuts in a generation?

We're going to track its fortunes over the next 12 months and beyond.

Why are we taking such a close interest in this West Midlands city of 300,000 people?

Well, in many ways, it is a mini-UK economy.

Just under a third of the workforce is employed in the public sector, and in the last few decades its private sector, once reliant on manufacturing, has managed to diversify with some success.

Unemployment is slightly higher than the UK average, but Coventry is a good place to monitor the recovery close up and find out what's going on in the "real economy".

The big question is, will there be enough economic growth in the private sector to make up for the job losses in the public sector? By taking a close look at Coventry, we hope we can find part of the answer.

Contrasting views

There are plenty of contrasting views in the city. The chief executive of the city council says that Coventry has been re-inventing itself for decades.

On the other hand, a local union representative sees a depressing and uncertain future.

The head of the chamber of commerce says that manufacturing is still a major part of the local economy.

And a recently redundant quango employee tries to make a new career for herself as a professional singer.

I've just been visiting a company called CPP Manufacturing. It isn't exactly a household name but you'll have heard of the luxury brands it helps to build, such as Aston Martin and Bentley.

It is a niche manufacturer making some of the best cars in the world and it will soon start to produce the Spyker Car. The boss reckons he'll be taking on as many as a hundred people in the next year alone through increasing demand and expansion.

These will be new, highly-skilled, jobs. It is just the kind of growth this government is banking on.

History of carmaking

Coventry is a city with plenty of expertise when it comes to cars. Its history is synonymous with carmaking, a city that employed tens of thousands of workers in the industry in its heyday.

But by the mid 1980s it had lost a third of its manufacturing capacity as the big car plants closed. Twenty thousand jobs had vanished almost overnight and Coventry had one of the highest unemployment rates in the country.

It has tried hard to rebuild itself, with some success. In the last 20 years it has moved into business services including software and advanced engineering design.

The city also worked hard to attract the public sector. Only last year saw the opening of a new multi-million pound building to house the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency, a quango that had just been relocated from London to Coventry. It is now in the process of being wound down, with hundreds of jobs on the line.

Another Government education agency, Becta, will officially cease to exist by the end of this week.

The fear is that Coventry could once again be hit very hard by a wave of job losses, this time from the public sector.

Jobs tracker

We're going to keep track of the numbers and find out if the private sector will be able to pick up the slack.

The city council is gathering jobs data for us from a number of public service bodies.

We hope to build on that emerging picture through our own means, too. We can't pretend that we'll be able to do as thorough a job as the Office for National Statistics, but we hope to give a real time commentary on how Coventry is coping with the cuts.

It's still early days, but our first set of figures show that there have been only a small number of compulsory redundancies so far.

With help from the chamber of commerce, we've also put together a diverse group of companies, which will be telling us what they're up to in the coming months, and we have a large group of public sector workers who will be telling us about any changes in their lives as well.

Project participants at the Ricoh Arena Hands up if you're feeling confident...

Many of them gathered at the football stadium at the end of last week for a colourful photo-call.

What a diverse bunch of companies and workers they were. I asked the people in the public sector to raise their hands if they were worried about job losses where they worked, and most did. But there was a lot of confidence on the other side of the stand where the private sector sat. It was an interesting and visual snapshot of opinion.

Over the coming months, we'll go where the stories take us.

As I write, colleagues at BBC Coventry and Warwickshire are reporting the news of a major jobs blow for the city.

A big insurance services company is going to close its office in Coventry by the end of summer 2012 with the potential loss of more than 400 jobs.

The Axa Building, with its seventies style bronze tinted windows, is a rather symbolic building, right in the centre of town.

Where will these people end up?

I hope to find out, but right now private sector job cuts are the last thing this city needs.

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