Virgin Media’s imminent Swansea job cuts were painfully predictable and underlined the urgent need for our fair share of rail investment across Swansea City Region.
Last week we were stunned and saddened by the news of 800 Virgin Media job losses. It is a catastrophe for our city and a traumatic shock to individuals and communities across Swansea. The families concerned now face the insecurity and uncertainty which comes with losing a job.
But the news also made me angry, because the job losses were avoidable and painfully predictable. Just five years ago Virgin Media said they were expanding and planning long term investment in Swansea. So why did they leave? When asked by ITV, Virgin stated that the decision was down to the quality of the transport links between Swansea and the rest of the UK.
To rub salt in the wounds, as we heard of the loss of 800 Swansea jobs, the Manchester Evening News led with the triumphant headline “Hundred new jobs for Wythenshawe as Virgin Media expands its Manchester base”
Unfortunately this should come as no surprise as HS2 will provide a high speed South-North England rail link at a cost of £57 billion and will halve journey times between London and Manchester from 2 hours 10 minutes to 1 hour 10 minutes. This makes the infrequent three-hour London to Swansea journey look much less attractive.
Shorter journey times explains why KPMG has predicted that South Wales will lose 20,000 jobs as result of HS2 as investment and jobs will simply move to the better-connected Midlands and North. This could be avoided if the UK Government gave South Wales our fair share of rail investment. Wales has 5% of Britain’s population, 6% of the railway track and yet receives just 2% of the rail investment. The money is instead is disproportionately invested in London and the South East.
In 2012 the Prime Minister David Cameron promised rail electrification to Swansea saying “After years of neglect, this part of Wales will finally get the infrastructure it needs with faster, more modern, more efficient trains and the impact will be huge, spreading employment opportunities from Cardiff.” His promise has been broken by his successor Theresa May and business is responding accordingly.
But it’s worse than that. On top of the £700 million lost from the cancellation of rail electrification to Swansea, the Government’s Network rail plans to cut a further £1 billion from our rail investment. On Wednesday, the day before the Virgin announcement, I raised this in Parliament with the Welsh Secretary but was fobbed off with warm words which now leave a particularly bitter taste.
Things have to change. Swansea and West Wales is the poorest region in Western Europe and, if Britain leaves the EU, stands to lose billions of pounds in EU Convergence Funding. This money needs to be reinstated by UK Government on top of our fair share of rail investment. Business needs to be know that we have the investment to face the future with confidence.
That’s why this month I’ll be meeting the UK Rail Minister with Professor Mark Barry to press home the importance of an electrified Swansea Bay City Metro to underpin future private sector inward investment. At £1 billion the scheme would deliver a modern integrated transport system at the same cost as just two and a half miles of HS2.
The electrified Swansea Bay Metro would connect up our City Region and cut journey times to Cardiff in half with a straightened line. It would continue the existing service via Neath and transform our regional economy.
We’ve got a lot going for us in Swansea to attract new jobs and investment. Swansea is a global brand thanks to our football success, has a stunning coastline and two world-class universities. Our City Deal will provide our digital platform but we also need rail connectivity with the rest of the UK. Virgin Media was a disaster waiting to happen. Let’s say never again and demand the rail investment we need now to deliver a stronger fairer, greener future for all.