Firms should stay local for the best results
Human nature being what it is, we cannot help being more affected by stories – whether cheerful or tragic – that are closer to home.
That is why issues like the bid to build a Tesco store in Sheringham and a wind turbine at Bodham capture more interest around here than mass starvations or epic natural disasters in sub-Saharan Africa.
And it is one reason why the community-centric EDP and Archant Norfolk’s weekly papers continue to buck the nationwide trend of falling newspaper sales.
For me, the reality of that theory hit home last week when Young’s Seafood announced the likely closure of its Cromer Crab Company facility, with the loss of 230 jobs.
I say "likely" because it is embarking on one of my least favourite things – a period of consultation. The cynic in me believes that consultation is usually a tick-box exercise that allows large companies and local authorities to keep administrators and HR chiefs happy.
It rarely results in a change of heart from the executives whose focus on the bottom line blurs their view of the front line.
In this case, as someone who has "Cromer" embedded in my DNA, I have to hope that I am wrong.
I have to hope that Young’s really wants to consult its employees, the local crab fishermen, economic development experts and the town’s traders. I have to hope that it is genuinely interested in listening to new ideas of how to make the business profitable.
If not, the impact on my town will be devastating.
In a town of 7,000 people, many of whom are retired, losing 230 jobs would be a disaster, and could take decades to recover from.
There are simply not the alternative jobs for people to access in the local area, and some hard-working people – both from Cromer and from Eastern Europe – would be forced to uproot from their community or become jobless.
It brings me to one of the great conundrums faced by Norfolk.
How do you continue to make this county an attractive place to live, while also providing the employment to satisfy our children’s ambitions?
I want my children to be able to stay in the area where they were born, raised and where their roots are – if they want to. But they will probably have to pull up those roots to get on in life.
And if big businesses continue to regard Norfolk as an outpost and its workers as numbers on an HR file, that is unlikely to change.
My worry is that firms like Young’s do not take into account the "soft" side of a situation when they make business decisions.
Its executives will have no love for Cromer, and no interest in the town and its people.
That is because too many larger organisations have lost their sense of community.
It apparently no longer matters where you do your business from, as long as the profits are higher.
That is why Norwich Union "offshored" so much of its work to Indian call centres and eventually offloaded its name in favour of Aviva.
That is why businesses buy local firms, asset strip them and close them.
But they miss the point. For it is not only cold economics that equals employee efficiency. The most productive workforces are happy ones. And much of that happiness comes from the camaraderie that grows from a community.
posted on 04 October 2011 08:12 bySteve Downes