Closed/Ar Gau, Sorry

Machynlleth is currently experiencing a sharp rise in poverty and the ‘restructuring’ of the Centre for Alternative Technology. Helen Pendry argues that the town offers an insight into a disturbing conflation of austerity measures with an ethos of sustainability.


I’m surprised the real anger hasn’t been greater than it has.
Mervyn King (outgoing Governor of the Bank of England)

On 18 January 2013, the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) closed down the Quarry Wholefood Shop and Café in Machynlleth. Within a month, three other long-term fixtures of the town’s high street – a pub, a clothes shop and a bakery – announced they would cease trading. And while no one should underestimate the inconvenience to Machynlleth residents of not being able to source millet flakes and smoked tofu, or cheap knickers and freshly-baked custard slices, the greater losses relate to employment: eight jobs have gone from the Quarry café, for example, and nine from the bakery.

The picture beyond the High Street is equally dire. On the Bryn y Gog estate, the Communities First office has pulled down its shutters. In December 2012 the charity Beacon of Hope (which helped people with terminal illnesses) was liquidated and its Machynlleth office closed. One of the biggest local employers – the renewable energy company Dulas – has now put a virtual freeze on all new employment after an extended period of expansion. Up at the Centre for Alternative Technology itself an estimated 30% of the eco-centre’s ninety employees have gone in the last twelve months, and many of the remaining staff are now on new zero-hour contracts. Zero-hour contracts are increasingly popular with employers across the UK because they require people to be available for work as and when required and without any guaranteed hours or times of work. Employees on a zero-hour contract may also have no entitlement to redundancy compensation or pay in lieu of notice – they are simply told there is no more work available…

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