Wiltshire

Swindon 'likely to resist cuts better than Taunton'

Honda production plant
Image caption Swindon is home to big hi-tech names such as Honda, Motorola and Intel

As thousands of public sector workers wait to hear which budgets the coalition government will cut, new research by Experian for the BBC has revealed which towns and cities in the West Country have the most to lose.

One simple measure is the proportion of people employed by the government, such as teachers, council workers, soldiers and sailors - the list goes on. By analysing official statistics, it is possible to see what proportion of a town's employed population work for the government.

In Swindon, the figure is just 19.6%, well below the national average of 26.6% and the lowest in the west of England.

Wiltshire's economy is more dependent on the taxpayer, with 28.5% of people in work paid for by the Chancellor.

The highest public sector in the West Country is in Taunton, where 39.4% - nearly two fifths - of the town's working population are on the government payroll.

Councillor John Williams, leader of Taunton Deane Council, runs the Somerset town.

He said the high number of public jobs used to be a strength, but not any more.

"It's getting to be a case of too many eggs in one basket. And with all of us having to make reductions in our budgets, it will soon be a weakness," he said.

About 24,000 people in Taunton work for the council, Musgrove Park Hospital, the police, Somerset College, the Hydrographic office, and other public bodies.

Mr Williams points out that most budget cuts mean jobs cuts and he expects up to 10-15% of those people to lose work, some 2,500 - 4,000 employees.

He said: "You can see the impact it would have on the town's economy. We must diversify our economy into other areas, like the new knowledge economy."

This is exactly what lies behind Swindon's relatively low dependence on public jobs.

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Jeremy Holt, a leading lawyer in the town, said: "Swindon has reinvented itself, like Madonna.

"We've gone from manufacturing, to electronics, to computer software and finance."

The town is home to big hi-tech names like Motorola, Honda, and Intel.

A quarter of the working population - more than 28,000 people - work in banking and finance.

On the big industrial estates on the town's fringes, thousands work in small firms making new software products.

Keith Baker, who runs Equiinet, said the last two years had been tough for the firm with half the staff being laid off, but now business is coming back.

"We are expanding again, taking on new work," he said.

"I'm hopeful we'll soon be back to full strength."

Many in Swindon say the same, the private sector is feeling the recovery already.

If the cuts in government budgets cause job losses and reduce spending on the high street, commercial firms should see the town through the worst.

Through the tough months of the recession in 2008-9, Taunton was cushioned by the large numbers of people in safe government jobs.

Now, they have reason to envy Swindon's low dependence on the public payroll.

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