Grants go as businesses hold on in Wales in 2010

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Protest placard
Image caption,
Hundreds marched through Newport in October after cuts to the passport office there were revealed

2010 began in dramatic fashion with the announcement of the closure of the Bosch car parts factory near Cardiff.

In total, more than 800 jobs will be lost when it eventually closes in autumn 2011.

At the time it was said to be one of the most devastating decisions to affect the Welsh economy in years and prompted widespread disgruntlement with the inward investment culture that had been such a strong feature in Wales since the 1980s.

The claim was that big foreign firms came to Wales with the promise of huge grants, but packed up and left when the money ran out.

That may well have been an exaggeration; after all, Bosch had provided excellent employment prospects for 20 years in Wales, but it reflected the anger felt by workers, unions and politicians.

There have been relatively few announcements of factory or office closures since then, confounding many of the more apocalyptic predictions.

But on the other side there have not been many expansions or openings either.

The official opening of a Virgin Atlantic call centre in Swansea at the end of November was the first I had been to all year.

That is not to say there has not been good news. In the summer, Tata Steel said it would invest nearly £200m in a new blast furnace at Port Talbot.

Image caption,
More than 800 jobs were lost when Bosch closed its plant at Miskin, Vale of Glamorgan

Other expansions have occurred under the radar, such as at International Rectifier in Newport - an American manufacturer of silicon chips - which has nearly doubled its workforce to more than 600 over the past two years without telling anyone.

Unemployment in Wales went up initially and then fell for six months in succession.

In the end both cancelled each other out and there was no change on the year.

After a lengthy consultation process, the Welsh Assembly Government published changes to the way it supports business.

Grants have mostly come to an end. Instead half of the money will be spent on rolling out next generation broadband, while the rest will be spent supporting six sectors: advanced manufacturing, financial services, creative industries, bioscience, energy and information technology.

The proposals were broadly welcomed by many, including the employers' organisation the CBI, which had called for an end to the scatter-gun approach to helping companies.

But the end of business grants is considered risky by many in the climate of restricted bank lending.

Image caption,
There was good news with Tata's decision to invest £200m in a new blast furnace at Port Talbot

With a referendum on further powers for the assembly, and the assembly election in 2011, expect this to come under the spotlight as the economic record since devolution is scrutinised.

The recent publication of local versions of gross domestic product yet again showed Wales firmly rooted to the bottom of the UK league table in terms of economic prosperity.

We were given a greater indication of the extent of the cuts in the public sector in Wales.

The passport office in Newport was the first big victim, but it was quickly followed by plans for the defence training academy at RAF St Athan in the Vale of Glamorgan.

This scheme has not been totally rejected but it is clear the ambitious scale of the project will be reduced. The reality is that the true impact of the cuts is still not known.

Predictions about the number of job losses have varied wildly. Unions have spoken of more than 70,000 losses in Wales in the public and private sectors while estimates from the UK Government put the figure closer to 20,000 in the public sector.

No-one knows what the knock-on will be for the private sector, but one worrying element will be the cuts in capital spending which will inevitably hit the construction and civil engineering industries.

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