As another major employment plan falters, is it time for firms to re-evaluate the way they handle local expectation?

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The phrase corporate responsibility is often bandied about within big business these days as a way of suggesting senior management has its eyes on more than just the bottom line and the personal bonus they’re chasing to finance that second holiday home.

More often than not it is swiftly followed by a phrase about health and safety, recycling, community investment or the sourcing of raw products from developing countries.

But there is an argument to say corporate responsibility should be applied to the way in which firms manage expectation in an area.

Because if you live in Sheppey right now, you must be wondering quite why so much promised and desperately needed industry has become such a political and economic football.

Hopes of employment have been raised sky-high before being smashed. And for an area such as Sheppey, and in the economic environment we find ourselves in, it reeks of little corporate ‘responsibility’. Quite the opposite in fact.

Take the news that Vestas, the wind turbine giants, have decided to pull out of plans to build a major new plant in Sheerness.

For years the good folk of Sheppey and surrounding area have been told 2,000 jobs are on their way.

The firm trumpeted a factory the size of 93 football pitches, of a proportion of jobs going to local people, of a commitment to the local area.

And every time they did, they would then follow it up by saying the UK Government needed to show more commitment to the industry in which it specialised. The cynics, as they were thought of at the time, always feared it could provide them with a get-out.

Publicly and privately, council chiefs felt confident that despite the political posturing, Vestas would be as good as their word. And when planning permission was granted and it seemed all systems go, the Champagne corks may not have quite been popping, but the bottles were definitely on ice.

Ironically, for a firm which specialised in energy, it was a swift hurricane which blew through the plans and left the hopes and dreams of those in and around Sheppey drifting away on a cold wind.

Whatever it was that made Vestas change its mind – be it a management change, a focus shift, or economic pressure – it will come as little to no comfort for those who were banking on its arrival to change the fortunes of themselves and their families.

Perhaps they should be used to it by now.

Just earlier this month, hopes sprang up that the 350 who lost their jobs when Thamesteel closed would be in with a chance of new employment.

News that the Sheerness plant had been bought from the administrators and would hopefully soon be up and running again was met with delight.

Yet that delight quickly soured. Because it soon became apparent the new owners were in fact the old owners. What’s more, they still didn’t have the money to get it up and running again.

So in a flurry of good news headlines, it became clear the future of a site which failed and collapsed in January, was now back in the same firm’s hands and still without sufficient financial resources; its future reliant on finding investors. In an economic environment which would have made Scrooge wince.

More hopes dashed.

In total, that’s the sharp end of 2,500 jobs promised for the island and now looking about as likely as Greece going on a massive spending spree with Angela Merkel’s personal credit card.

By the time you throw in the threat of having a major international airport built a few yards from its coast, and you can imagine Sheppey may be wondering quite what it did to deserve all the disappointment.

Corporate responsibility and too many false dawns has a lot to answer for.

1 comment

  • It is probably a matter of insurance. As the risk of a devastating explosion of wreck SS Richard Montgomery 1.8Km away is very high to say the least, if any insurance company were foolish enough ( in my option to take on the risk) the premium would be so high( as with old steel works) to make it none viable. The government would pay compensation for the workers and other 33,000 people who would probably die in the surrounding area, but nothing for any loss or damage to the factory as the risk was known when built therefore pre existing the same way as if a person had a medical condition which they knew about and went on holiday would not be covered.

    Report this comment

    Ron Angel

    Saturday, June 23, 2012

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