Postcard from Britain's edges

5th June 1998 at 01:00
Towns that relied on heavy or rural industries are in danger as the young are forced to leave to find work. Dorothy Lepkowska and Paul Rowinski report from Cornwall

WHILE millions of tourists jam roads to Cornwall's picturesque beaches, more than two-thirds of the teenagers who live there say they want to leave because of poor job prospects and low wages.

Experts say this reflects a growing brain drain across the country, with youth deserting deprived areas and flocking to cities with disproportionate growth. Cornwall's unemployment is running at twice the national average.

A preliminary report on 18-year-olds by Matthew Taylor, the Liberal Democrat MP for Truro, found that 67 per cent did not expect to be living in the area in two years' time, with a quarter of them planning to leave to find work. Most did not expect to return before retirement.

Mr Taylor has promised a full-scale survey later this year and a campaign to raise the issue. He said: "The future for Cornwall is bleak...This report makes alarming reading for young people and the future of Cornwall itself."

Paul Convery, co-director of the Unemployment Unit and Youth Aid, said that the Cornwall case was part of an ongoing problem of youth deserting Britain's "Celtic fringe" for work elsewhere.

Mr Convery said that about 80,000 new jobs were created in the South-west alone last year. But crucially the majority were in Bristol, which has seen considerable economic growth in the past few years. This is reflected in other cities across the country which have attracted youngsters who have deserted rural or former steel and mining communities.

Mr Convery said: "These areas have very, very poor prospects if this continues, particularly if they lose the youngest and most capable people.'' But he added that such areas had "enormous potential" if cottage industries, tourism and clever use of information technology were exploited.

More than half of the 18-year-olds working in Cornwall were paid less than pound;3.50 an hour, with one in 20 earning less than pound;2 - well below the proposed pound;3.60 minimum wage.

Bharti Patel, director of the national Low Pay Unit, said that the key to keeping residents was decent pay and ending the perception that jobs in these areas are seasonal and stop-gap. Ms Patel said hotel and care work, for example, needed training schemes and career structures.

She warned: "Youngsters have very little choice but to move out. We are ending up with ghost towns. If it continues like this there will be a real breakdown of communities in such areas."

Mr Taylor is now hoping his findings will help secure more European funding for Cornwall. He said that the county's location and poor communications network had kept business away - with tourism alone not proving sufficient.

He hopes the creation of a new university by the universities of Exeter and Plymouth and Falmouth College of Arts might also help stem the brain drain.

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