Bill Gleeson looks back at the business and economic highlights in our region during 2012
THIS time last year, the doom-mongers were in full flow warning that the eurozone crisis could push Britain and much of the rest of the world into an even deeper and longer recession than the one we saw just a couple of years earlier.
Some reputable forecasters suggested that, in the event of a eurozone implosion, GDP in Britain could fall by as much as 7%, almost twice as much as in the first recession.
In the end, that didn’t happen. While the eurozone has had the threat of a sovereign debt crisis and a possible break-up hanging over it throughout the year, the British economy proved relatively stable. It’s true that growth has been weak, but it is also true that there has been no further deterioration.
Indeed, the UK’s labour market has improved, with unemployment falling consistently throughout the year. The number of jobs in the economy finished the year
This was particularly true of the local car industry, which was the source of some surprisingly good news in the first half of 2012, when there were two major new jobs announcements affecting local factories.
In March, Tata-owned Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) announced plans to recruit 1,000 new staff to man a third shift at its Halewood plant.
The jobs boost took the total workforce employed at the plant to 4,500 – its highest level for more than two decades.
The new jobs came on the back of a boom in sales of the Halewood-made Range Rover Evoque, which has proved popular in emerging markets like Russia, China and India.
The boom in sales should secure the factory’s future for many years to come, but, in the longer term, Tata’s announcement at the end of this year that it has struck a deal with Cheri Automotive to build Jaguars and Land Rovers at a factory near Shanghai could prove a threat to employment in this country.
Workers at Vauxhall’s Ellesmere Port plant also received good news last spring. In May, General Motors confirmed that it would build the next generation of the Vauxhall Astra at its Cheshire plant, a move that would require the recruitment of 800 new workers for a third shift. The Ellesmere Port plant already employs 2,100 staff.
While this was good news for the North west of England, it came at the expense of workers employed at General Motor’s Astra factories at Bochum, in Germany, and Antwerp, in Belgium, which are to close with the loss of thousands of jobs. The closures were made necessary because General Motors’ European operations continue to make large losses.
The past year also brought significant developments for Merseyside’s maritime sector. In March, Peel Ports confirmed it would proceed with plans to construct a new in-river container terminal that would allow the world’s biggest vessels to call at the Port of Liverpool. The investment in the new quayside will cost £300m and will create 500 jobs for dockers at the terminal plus another 1,000 jobs at nearby warehousing developments. Construction work is due to start shortly and is expected to be completed by 2015.
Other major maritime sector developments include an announcement in February that a deal had been struck with the Government to repay up to £9m of grant funding used to build Liverpool’s Pier Head cruise liner facility. The return of the cash cleared the way for cruise line operators to start and finish cruise tours from the Pier Head. Liverpool City Council estimates that the change could benefit the local economy by up to £100m a year. The cruise operators were swift to take advantage of the opportunity, with the first departures setting sail just a few months later.