MANY businesses in Bridgwater claim they are facing difficulties recruiting staff because they struggle to compete with wages offered by EDF Energy at Hinkley C.

At a ‘Meet Your MP’ event held by Bridgwater Chamber of Commerce at the Somerset Energy Innovation Centre on Friday (January 2), one of the main concerns highlighted by business representatives was the cost of business rates and recruitment issues.

David Pomeroy, managing director of family business Monmouth Scientific, said: “The price for land for business use is astronomically expensive. 

“I am considering moving part of my business out of the town – I do not want to, I am Bridgwater born and bred – but if I were to move part of my business to Warrington, I could rent for half the price and there would be staff readily available whereas it is proving more and more difficult to recruit here. I have advertised three jobs in the past 10 days, these are well-paid, full-time service engineer jobs which allow people to travel around the country but there are not enough skilled workers in the town.

“And it is not just skilled workers, when we used to advertise for an office assistant you could get 150 applications, now we get less than 15.”

Allan Cook, of Colley Lane Bus and Truck, said his company had been finding similar staffing issues. “It is frustrating because we have the work but not the people to do the job,” he said. “The staff pool is just not there. We do not need trainees, we need skilled communal technicians. It is something many firms here are struggling with.”

Steve Leahy, chairman of Bridgwater Chamber of Commerce, said Hinkley C offers huge opportunities, not just at the site itself, but as a catalyst for new hotels, the Bridgwater Gateway, and the former Puriton BAE site, set to become the Huntspill Energy Park.

Bridgwater MP Ian Liddell-Grainger said: “I do not quite know the answer, Hinkley can pay a level almost no-one else can compete with. "But we have made efforts to ensure we create one non-nuclear job for every nuclear job created.”

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(Pictured: Ian Liddell-Grainger with Bridgwater Chamber of Commerce chairman Steve Leahy at the Meet Your MP event)

EDF’s David Eccles said: “Hinkley C is bringing huge economic benefits, with contracts worth £465 million already given to South West firms and an expected £200m a year coming into the regional economy during construction.

“We need large numbers of skilled workers to build and operate the power station which is why we are focusing on training rather than relying on the existing workforce. £15 million is being invested into education and skills, helping workers into long term careers.

“Although some firms may experience some migration of workers, we are helping to provide newly-skilled people to fill gaps and believe any uplift in wages is good for the economy.”

Making sure that as many Sedgemoor businesses as possible benefit from opportunities on the Hinkley Point C project is one of the shared aims of the District Council and EDF Energy which is why a fund has been launched to help smaller companies.  

Contributions from EDF Energy made under the legal agreement attached to the planning consent for HPC have been set aside for a Suppliers’ Support Grant Fund accessible to eligible small or medium size businesses working or wanting to work on building the power station and associated developments.

To qualify companies must employ fewer than 200 people, be based in Sedgemoor, supply a year’s accounts and be registered on the Hinkley Supply Chain portal. The money can be used for a number of purposes such as accreditation, training, recruitment, research and diversification as well as for new facilities, equipment or processes.

Portfolio Holder for Economic Growth at Sedgemoor, Cllr Anne Fraser, said: “We are really keen to see local businesses taking advantage of the numerous contracts coming out of Hinkley. If there is something holding them back which can be addressed with a bit of financial support, we think that is a sensible use of the money.”

Sedgemoor District Council says it is working with a number of partners in other ways to help local companies and individuals engage with the HPC project and benefit from it, which has led to a dedicated supply chain portal and a range of business support initiatives.

So far, 638 Sedgemoor businesses have registered on the portal and 51 have contracts according to Chris Langdon, Hinkley Supply Chain Project Lead at Somerset Chamber of Commerce.

Welcoming the launch of the grant, Mr Langdon said: “We will certainly get the word out to businesses we know and work with because we can think of a number for whom this small injection of cash could make all the difference in, for example, paying for a specialist course or accreditation needed to work on a nuclear site.” 

Interested businesses will be asked to complete a form, supply their accounts and give three quotes in the case of purchases. For further details visit: