Sunday, September 06, 2009

Politicians Letting Down West Lothian Workers

The CEO of West Lothian Chamber of Commerce has slated local and national politicians in light of the recent announcement that Bausch & Lomb's plant shutting down in Livingston. He said:

"It is disappointing that during recent years Alistair Darling, Iain Gray, Jim Devine, Margaret Hodge and Michael Connarty all had opportunities to influence changes that might have helped businesses like Bausch & Lomb to stay in West Lothian.

"The consequence of their inaction is that Ireland is now perceived internationally as a more attractive business location."

He is furious that the politicians haven't done enough to protect the regions eligibility under the Regional Selective Assistance programme (RSA). The area had maintained RSA status until last year, i.e. just before the world was thrown into recession, when European officals decided to reduce the number of Scottish areas eligible. Firms in such areas can claim up to 35% grants towards investment. It should be noted that Bausch & Lomb's other European plant in Waterford does now benefit from RSA status that the Livingston plant no longer does. Chamber President Duncan M Walker said:

"The factory is closing not because they're failing to produce innovative products, it's because the location in Ireland has RSA – Bausch & Lomb can get more activity while reducing costs. If we'd had more support from the people David McDougall mentioned, we might have retained the status which would mean Bausch & Lomb might have stayed."

Five years ago the company had won the Scottish Engineering Award for its work with "world-class technologies". As company Chairman Gerald M Ostrov said the closure was "by no means a reflection on our employees' professionalism, dedication, or efforts", but rather a purely financial decision.

Is it possible that Westminster and Holyrood could have done more to help maintain these highly trained, technical and skill jobs stay in the region? The writing was already on the wall even when the RSA was in place with firms like Motorola and NEC and others that formed the once renowned Silicon Glen pulling out to focus on other production plants. The area had been suffering even before the latest economic difficulties. The various industrial campuses around Livingston could become somewhat more of a ghost town if companies cannot be persuaded to stay in the area.

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