A taxi driver friend of mine and I were talking recently about the terrible haemorrhaging of jobs which had taken place in Plymouth since we arrived. He had written down a list of the vanished enterprises, which I’m sure is by no means exhaustive. Glancing down the melancholy column I wondered how it was possible for any city to survive such a culling. The roll-call made for depressing reading.
- Aggie Weston’s
- Derry’s Cross Co-op
- Gaumont Palace Cinema
- HM Dockyard
- Hoe Theatre
- Ladybird Factory
- Millbay railway station
- Navy, Army and Air Force Institute
- Odeon Cinema
- Plymouth Airport
- Robert Daniel’s Cash and Carry
- Royal Naval Engineering College
- Royal Naval Gunnery School
- Royal Naval Hospital
- Seaton Barracks
- Texas Instruments
We talk about austerity times, but if someone with a crystal ball had predicted the certain eclipse of all these enterprises and had been believed, there would have been a mass exodus from what would have been perceived as a doomed city. No one would have thought it possible to survive such a cataclysm.
So how fares the good ship Plymouth after this protracted bloodletting? Not bad! Not bad at all. Amazingly, the city which looks down on us today is little short of a stunning reincarnation. I will not say there are jobs a plenty, but its employment level compares favourably with most of the rest of the country. In my suburb of Plympton it stands at 3 per cent. In five short years much of the city centre was transformed, just in time to beat the credit crunch which brought development to a grinding halt. I have a strong feeling, however, that if you visited many another city a similar list could have been drawn up. But Plymouth, as a garrison city, suffered unduly harshly because of defence cuts due to the rundown of Empire.
Capitalism and the market do work. One way or another, jobs come to fill the void. The doomsayers are seldom right. How prescient that in the one area of the economy which has not been affected by the recession – the world of the super rich – Plymouth has found a response in Princess Yachts.
But apart from the acres of luxury, seafront apartments created out of clapped out warehouse and the sparkling, gigantic Drake Circus development, the most stunningly successful of all Plymouth’s new enterprises has been the transformation of its previously lacklustre, old polytechnic. Only a very few of the many polytechnics magicked overnight – to the scorn of many – into universities can aspire to a place at the top table of the long established universities. But Plymouth University is undoubtedly one of them. Its student numbers are vast and are a testament to the high regard in which it is held. It is architecturally new and striking; plum in the centre of the city giving it a real buzz which it has never had before, and much of its student accommodation is second to none. And its academic rigour is impressive. If its onward and upward march continues, I predict it will earn itself one day a place in that select pantheon of the elite universities in the Russell Group (I will write more of this in a later article).
So well done Plymouth. You have looked adversity in the face and have prospered against the odds. You have survived a storm, different in kind, but every bit as furious as any your illustrious seafarers ever met on the oceans of the world. They would be proud of you.