BUSINESS leaders have responded angrily to a national news television report portraying Burnley as ‘a town that has been dragging the economy down’.
A Sky News report filmed in the town and broadcast yesterday to coincide with the announcement of November’s jobless figures has been called ‘unduly negative’ and ‘a gross misrepresentation of the situation in the town’.
Former spokesman for the Prime Minister, Alastair Campbell, blasted the report as ‘superficial and one-sided’, and said it failed to mention any of the town’s success stories.
In the three-minute segment, repeated several times yesterday and placed on the channel’s website, Sky’s business correspondent Alistair Bunkall states that ‘the town centre is dead’ and ‘even those shops left open are virtually empty’.
The report goes on to state that of the 20 or 25 people spoken to during a one-day visit, all apart from two were unemployed.
It opens with an aerial shot of dozens of rows of terraced houses and a mill chimney and states: “No this isn’t the 1960s”.
At one point, Mr Bunkall asks: “Imagine trying to run a business here”.
Some of those interviewed, after watching the whole report, said they were hugely disappointed in the end result.
Donnie Doran, of Burnley-based recruitment specialist Neville Gee Limited said: “Sky News came with an agenda. The report reinforces tacky stereotypes and deliberately missed all the good news we provided on long-term quality jobs.
“The area does have challenges in the employment market but the trend is positive, with the number of jobless reducing and our experience is seeing a growth of quality, long-term skilled jobs.
“Look at some of the success stories such as Aircelle, AMS Neve and Moorhouses, all Burnley-based firms who are expanding their workforces against a recessionary background.”
New unemployment figures released yesterday show Burnley’s claimant count is currently 5.1 per cent, higher than regional figure of 4.4 per cent.
However, Burnley’s figure has dropped in the last six months month from 5.3 per cent, whilst the national figure has remained the same.
This is seen by the town’s supporters as evidence that Burnley is making progress.
Burnley Council chief executive Steve Rumbelow, who was also interviewed by Sky, criticised the report.
He said: “It seemed to me unduly negative. I feel they came here with a particular story in mind.
“We do have empty shops, but we compare favourably in that respect with other similar towns.
“Retail wise, we’re having massive investment at Charter Walk and Next is doubling the size of its store.
“Recently there’s been the £1.4million funding for an Aerospace Supply Park, the new Padiham Tesco has created in excess of 200 jobs both full time and part-time and Velocity Composites has recently relocated to Burnley.”
Prince Charles has visited Burnley on a number of occasions, making the town’s regenerations a top priority. In the summer on a visit to the town with her son The Queen praised Burnley and said: “I have been interested to learn today about the work undertaken by the Prince’s charities to transform lives and build sustainable communities."
Alastair Campbell, who is due to speak at a Burnley Bondholders event on Friday, said: “This rather superficial and one-sided report shows how far Burnley has to go in countering an image so rooted in the past.
“Two out of 25 in a job? Perhaps he should have walked into one of the shops and spoke to people who work in them?
“Or studied the Weaver's Triangle plans and explained how a new rail link will make a difference, or gone to the University College of Football Business and seen real innovation in education.
“I suppose we should count our blessings that the flat caps and ferrets cliches were kept in the newsroom.”
Major employers in Burnley were quick to defend the town.
Alan Hood is managing director at Burnley’s largest private sector employer, Safran Aircelle, which makes aerospace components for planes like the Airbus A380.
He said: “We have a tremendous skills base in the town and immense manufacturing experience.
“We see ourselves as part of the community and we participate in the life of the town.
“We’re building a workforce at Aircelle that will meet the challenges of the global economy – so we’re generating well-paid, high-quality jobs and since 2006 the Burnley site has grown from 550 employees to 940 today.”
Veka UK has been based in Burnley for 26 years.
Managing director Dave Jones said: “We have been a proud and passionate supporter of the area and its people.
“Over the last 18 months, we have created over 100 new jobs within Burnley, at all levels, across all parts of the business and our large recruitment drive over the last 12 months has brought our total staff to over 450.
“Whilst other areas of the country are suffering from poor unemployment figures, Burnley continues to buck the trend. We are Burnley’s proudest resident and we will continue to invest into our future and that of the town.”
Julian Jordan, managing director of PR business Brandspankin’ is a member of Burnley Bondholders, a group of nearly 100 businesses who collectively push for a better business image for Burnley.
He said: “Burnley is on the up. This Sky News piece is just a blip.
“A lot of very positive media work has been done in the last couple of years to encourage investment in the area.
“When you consider that we will also shortly have the Todmorden Curve and the Burnley Bridge business park the picture is actually very positive.”
A spokesman for Sky News said: “Burnley was chosen as the focus of the report as statistically its unemployment rate is higher than the national average and therefore it offered an interesting case study. The reporting team spent time not only researching thoroughly beforehand but also during the day of filming itself. The views of the numerous people they interviewed in various locations of the town were fairly reflected in the piece.”
Ten reasons to be proud of Burnley
WEAVERS' TRIANGLE The Weavers’ Triangle area, off Trafalgar Street, was the centre of Burnley’s legendary textile industry. Although plans to regenerate the area had been floated since the 1970s, the scheme was put on hold indefinitely following the property slump in 2008. However, it had remained on the radar, with public support from Prince Charles and cash grants for renovation work from the North West Development Agency and the National Lottery. Now schemes are well underway to rejuvenate the historic waterside area, with one major former mill being converted into Burnley’s new University Technical College.
BONDHOLDERS A project, launched in late 2009, by Burnley Council to promote the area. It includes major local firms such as Moorhouses and Aircelle, working together to raise the profile of the town. The scheme brings together local businesses to support the growth and development of Burnley as a sophisticated cultural centre, and membership is made up of informed, influential people who understand the link between success for Burnley and success for business. The bondholders’ aim is tell more of the ‘right people’ about Burnley’s assets., including heritage, countryside and the football team.
TOD CURVE AFTER years of campaigning a direct rail link between Burnley and Manchester, seen as vital for economic regeneration, is set to become a reality by 2014. The £6.8million project was given the go-ahead earlier this year Work is progressing apace on the long-awaited Todmorden Curve initiative, which will dramatically slash journey times from the town’s Manchester Road station to the city. Four decades of vegetation has been removed from the track bed, between Stansfield Hall and the main Todmorden-Hebden Bridge line.
UCLAN BURNLEY’S stunning university building is the envy of many towns. Operated by UCLan and Burnley College there are leading higher and further education courses offered on a shared campus in the heart of the town. Built at a cost of £11million students attend the site from across the country and even further afield in hi-tech surroundings.
AEROSPACE BURNLEY is a key component of the Lancashire Aerospace industry, which is a cornerstone of the Lancashire jobs market. Aerospace manufacturing giants Aircelle are one of the town’s largest employers, with over 700 people working at its Bancroft Road site, and in August they announced turnover for the year of £134million. In October the Regional Growth Fund announced funding for an aerospace ‘park’ to be created in the town, on the former Michelin site, which could create around 1,000 jobs according to the town’s MP Gordon Birtwistle.
BURNLEY FC ARGUABLY the real heart of the town, the Clarets are riding high thanks to the goalscoring exploits of Europe’s leading goalscorer Charlie Austin and new manager Sean Dyche. The club enjoy overwhelming support in Burnley and tasted the glory of Championship play-off final victory in 2008 followed by a dramatic season in the Premier League.
PRINCE CHARLES THE heir to the throne has a unique relationship with the town, starting with work carried out through his charity the Prince’s Trust through to him professing his support for Burnley FC. He has visited the town on numerous occasions in the past five years and even brought his parents for a visit earlier this year ahead of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
RETAIL SINCE taking over the Charter Walk shopping centre in early 2011 Addington Capital have invested heavily. They announced plans to redevelop the Market Square area and doubling the size of the units. In early December Next is set to open a new 20,000 sq ft store in the centre.
DIVERSITY THE town has a highly diverse population with a large Pakistani community. While there have been tensions, most notably the Burnley Riots in 2001, there has been major progress made. The BNP has seen its support drop dramatically. Building Bridges Burnley, a community cohesion group, has been a major success.
SCHOOLS THIS summer Burnley bucked the national trend with its super schools seeing a marked improvement on GCSE results. In the town, which has had a £250million Building Schools for the Future investment, students’ grades continued to rise despite GSCE grades falling nationally for the first time in almost 20 years.
Telegraph comment: Shallow, misleading journalism
ONLY a fool would suggest Burnley, and the rest of East Lancashire, didn’t have real unemployment problems and a crying need for urgent investment in regeneration.
The same can be said for other areas of the north of England, Wales and significant parts of the rest of the country outside London and the Home Counties.
But to single out the town as one ‘that has been dragging the economy (of the UK) down’ is a gross misrepresentation.
The Sky News report filmed in the town to coincide with the announcement of the latest monthly unemployment figures also said ‘20 to 25’ people had been spoken to during the day in the street and all but two were unemployed.
Hardly a revelation since those with jobs would be unlikely to be in the street mid-morning or afternoon on a weekday. They would be at work.
The fact is that the image presented is an out-of-date stereotype – and smacks of lazy journalism.
In fact Burnley is the East Lancashire town most on the way up with some fantastically innovative, and highly skilled, employers ranging from aerospace giants Aircelle, to world famous film sound and effects experts AMS Neve and VEKA plc – the UK’s leading U-PVC window system manufacturer.
It’s true that town centre shops have shut – but there can’t be a high street in Britain where they haven’t.
Thanks to initiatives like the Burnley Bondholders scheme, in which employers have come together to promote the borough, and special focus from the Prince of Wales charities, the borough’s history over the past five years is a success story rather than a cliched downward spiral of increasing deprivation and despair.
Following hard on the heels of the hatchet job done by BBC TV’s Panorama on Blackburn’s Shadsworth estate perhaps we should not be surprised by Sky’s portrayal of Burnley as some sort of industrial and commercial write-off.
The lack of detailed research and analysis in some TV news reporting has been laid bare in the past few weeks with the fiasco of Newsnight’s so-called investigation into child abuse in North Wales.
The shallow, ‘dash-in, dash-out’ treatment that has been given to Burnley is a disgrace.
It’s also an embarrassment to those of us here at the Lancashire Telegraph who take pride in calling ourselves journalists.