THERE has been mixed messages on the Hartlepool job front in the past couple of days.
Let’s start with the good news. It is excellent news that Heerema in Hartlepool has announced an extra 250 jobs for the fabrication yard, bringing the total working on the project in the town to 700.
These jobs will be needed for the Cygnus gas development for the North Sea.
This is a massive project: the Cygnus gas field is the largest discovery in the Southern North Sea for a quarter of a century, with enough gas to meet the needs of about 1.5 million homes in this country.
Centrica, GDF Suez and Bayerngas are investing billions into the industrial capability of the UK. What is particularly pleasing for me is that a large part of that work is being carried out in Hartlepool.
When I am home from Parliament every week I walk the dog on the Headland and so I am constantly impressed at the great Cygnus Alpha platform that is being constructed just a few yards from the old Carneigie library.
This week, I had an opportunity to go onto the platform, and it is even more impressive. The level of engineering sophistication is immense, all done to time and to budget.
It is little wonder that senior management from the Cygnus project, who came to show me round the yard for the visit, sung Hartlepool’s praises.
The biggest vote of confidence is the additional work at the Heerema yard, because management are confident that it will be done in Hartlepool to a high specification and professionalism by Hartlepool workers.
This is excellent news, particularly as I see engineering and manufacturing, especially in the various fields of energy, being at the heart of how Hartlepool will pay its way in the world in the future.
Speaking of energy, it is also good news that Hartlepool nuclear power station has announced a deal that will safeguard jobs and help to ensure that the current station is open and operational until 2024.
The clear objective should be the replacement of the current station to ensure a lifetime well into the 21st century, but this deal means that workers will have more certainty and be able to plan for the future with more confidence than would otherwise have been the case.
This will be good for the local economy.
However, this good news is tempered by the rise in the town’s unemployment figures this week.
The number of unemployed in Hartlepool in January 2014 was 3,961, which was higher than the previous month.
The North-East has the highest proportion of people out of work, at 10 per cent, double the unemployment rate of the South East.
The level of long term unemployed remains a disgrace, and the longer people are out of work, the harder their chances of finding a job are.
Clearly, any sort of economic recovery, welcome though such a recovery would be, isn’t benefiting everyone.
It’s vital that any upturn means that more people can get into good, meaningful work, and that those in work see an increase in their standard of living.
Despite the great news that establishes and reinforces Hartlepool as a great town to do business, particularly engineering and high value manufacturing, the town is still struggling with the problems of unemployment.