UK steel town bears scars of government cuts

Wed Nov 23, 2011 5:25pm EST
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By Peter Griffiths

MIDDLESBROUGH, England (Reuters) - In the former British industrial powerhouse of Middlesbrough, a skyline once dominated by smoke-belching chimneys and steel mill furnaces now features a monumental piece of public art and an elegant new state college clad in silver and bronze.

The town's harsh industrial landscape inspired film director Ridley Scott, a son of north-east England, in his vision for the science fiction film "Blade Runner."

But many of its factories closed long ago and nearly half of the workforce now relies on the public sector.

Like so many places in Britain that came to depend on public jobs after the decline of their old industries, Middlesbrough faces an uncertain future as Prime Minister David Cameron tries to cut spending and avoid the sort of debt crisis that has toppled governments across Europe.

The town of 139,000 people, close to where the River Tees meets the windswept northeast coast, has been described as the place most vulnerable to Britain's cuts.

Its university expanded rapidly under the last Labour government, the hospital was rebuilt and a public art gallery sprang up in an elegant new town square as politicians poured money into Middlesbrough and other deprived areas.

Now the tap has been turned off and the Conservative-led coalition is trying to wipe out a budget deficit that peaked at around 11 percent of GDP -- a move that is expected to lead to the loss of 400,000 public sector jobs.

"Yes, we did have a policy as a Labour government, with all of these heavy industries going: We pushed people into the public sector where they were working, getting a salary, paying taxes and were part of the consumer society," said Stuart Bell, the town's Labour member of parliament since 1983.   Continued...

<p>Boys play football on Kingston Street in Middlesbrough, northern England November 6, 2011. REUTERS/Nigel Roddis</p>