Coventry & Warwickshire

Coventry seeks to bounce back from latest jobs blow

A woman looking for work Image copyright PA
Image caption Barclays is the latest company in Coventry to announce job losses

A call centre in Coventry is to close with the loss of 350 jobs, the latest in a series of disappointing job announcements. But can the city bounce back?

In 2007, Des Quinn left his job as a track worker at Ryton's Peugeot site, near Coventry, and moved to work for the trade union Unite.

Not long afterwards, the plant closed with the loss of 2,300 jobs.

For many cities, this would have been a devastating blow, but Mr Quinn said most of his former colleagues were able to find employment fairly quickly.

"There were companies around that snapped up Peugeot workers because they had such good skill sets," he said.

As the recession kicked in, there were further redundancies from insurance firm Friends Life, and 700 job losses at Ansty Park when electronics firm Ericsson left the site.

The latest blow came when Barclays announced its Walsgrave call centre was to close with the loss of 350 jobs.

The employment rate currently stands at 64%, below the national average of 71%

The city has bounced back before. During the 1950s and 60s - the "boom years" of British car manufacture - more than 75,000 people in Coventry were employed in the industry.

Today, that figure stands at more like 6,600.

However, some experts believe there are opportunities on the horizon for the city to bounce back again.

The 140-acre (57-hectare) Ryton site is now the scene of heated activity, with a number of new companies erecting warehouses and premises.

"Coventry started to realise it could diversify and did that very quickly," said Clive Skelhon, from Coventry Transport Museum.

"There are a lot of very highly-qualified engineers in the city and some of those have now started their own businesses.

"Coventry is very adept at remodelling itself. It is a painful process, but it has had to do it."

Image copyright TorquePR
Image caption Experts say the city's two universities are helping to encourage hi-tech creative industries into Coventry

"It's a resilient city. Just a week after the destruction of the Blitz, in 1940, industrial output was higher than it was before the bombing."

Others speak of a "manufacturing renaissance", led by its two universities - Warwick and Coventry.

According to the city council, between 2011 and 2012 the number of manufacturing jobs in the city increased for the first time in many years, with companies like Jaguar Land Rover investing in a new innovation campus at the University of Warwick.

John Thanassoulis, professor of financial economics at Warwick business school, said: "The big trend we have seen in Coventry is the decline in manufacturing and an increase in service industries, such as the Barclays call centre.

"The service growth hasn't compensated for the manufacturing job losses and the recession hasn't helped the situation.

"However, the city is turning a corner now and, in fact, manufacturing seems to be increasing again.

"One of the big things that sets Coventry apart from other cities is the presence of the University of Warwick.

"The university's science park is huge and we are starting to see clusters of businesses forming around that.

"I do believe the city can bounce back.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Unions are concerned that too many jobs in the city are short-term agency roles

"I don't think we will see the kind of mass manufacturing we saw in previous years," added Professor David Bailey, from Aston University Business School. "But the city has undoubtedly diversified."

But the question remains about job security for low-skilled workers.

Angela Tellyn, partnership manager for the chamber of commerce, said: "Many businesses would love to be able to offer full-time contracts but the economy doesn't always allow them to do that.

"But I think that will change. We are seeing lots of confidence from businesses.

"For those who are affected by the closure of Barclays, things are particularly difficult," added Councillor Lynnette Kelly, cabinet member for business and employment at Coventry City Council.

"The losses represent about half the call centre jobs in Coventry. But we are doing everything we can think of to support the creation of jobs in the city."

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