Spending Review: Fear of more cuts at Devonport docks

By Jonathan Morris
BBC News, Plymouth

Image caption,
Devonport is already a shadow of its former self in the numbers of people employed there

A group of children play on swings in the playground near Marlborough Street in Plymouth as parents chat on the street corner.

It is a world away from 30 years ago when the street would have been a sea of workers heading home from the nearby Devonport navy dockyards.

The number of dockyard workers has dropped from tens of thousands in the 1980s to about 4,000 now.

Devonport is still the largest naval base in western europe, but locals fear even fewer will be employed there in the future as a result of the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR).

Former dockyard worker Adrian Willcocks is drinking a cup of tea at a cafe in Marlborough Street.

Mr Willcocks, 51, worked at the dockyard as a general hand until 1993 when he was made redundant.

He remembers a tide of workers trooping down nearby St Levan Road and back at clocking off time.

"All the shops were were packed with customers," he said.

"Everything was very busy."

But community, business and civic leaders believe Plymouth is vulnerable to cuts in the public sector with large numbers employed in local government and the university amongst those waiting to see the outcome of the cuts contained in the Spending Review.

A survey by independent researchers Centre For Cities showed Plymouth depends on the public sector for about a third of its jobs.

The latest figures available, for 2008, showed 36.9% of its workforce were employed in the public sector, the sixth highest percentage of 63 cities surveyed in the UK.

Jo Norsworthy, 39, works at the Devonport Regeneration Community Partnership (DRC), which is made up of several agencies who work together to channel money from the Department for Communities and Local Government into Devonport.

The mother-of-two, who has lived in the area since 1991, has seen the number of police on the beat increase as a result of money from central government.

But she worries that when the DRC is wound up later this year and with increasing pressure on police budgets, officer numbers could fall.

A sergeant and seven police constables have been based in Marlborough Street since 2002 and she says it has had a positive effect in reducing crime in the area.

She said: "The police attend our events and are involved in the community.

"You used to see burned out cars. We do not want it to go back to what it was."

Part-time youth worker Luke Smith, 18, who has lived in Devonport all his life, said a lack of jobs could lead to a rise in crime.

"This week I applied for 20 jobs and have heard nothing back from them," he said.

"There's no excuse for crime, but it won't be long before we have youngsters holding up shops at knife point."

Mark Roberts, 42, who has lived in Devonport since 2009, said cuts risked putting back regeneration of the area.

He said: "We have seen new schools and the new buildings are fantastic.

"I've seen it change completely. I would not have moved here before. There were sirens going off all over the place.

"But you don't see the gangs now. People are proud of the area."

Mandy Buckingham, 45, is locking up at the Iceland store in Marlborough Street.

The Royal Fleet Club, with its grand frontage, is nearby. It was built in 1853 "for use of seamen and marines of the Royal Navy", but now stands empty, a sign of the changing times.

Ms Buckingham said: "There is no other work than the dockyard.

"My dad and brother worked in the dockyard. My nephew is there, but may not be for much longer."

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