Wednesday 26th February 2014

(7 years, 8 months ago)

Westminster Hall

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Department for Education
Jack Dromey Portrait Jack Dromey (Birmingham, Erdington) (Lab)
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It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hood.

Queen Victoria was on the throne when the Dunlop Motorsport factory first produced tyres. The factory has 125 years of remarkable history. To this day, it produces 250,000 tyres a year, including vintage tyres—it still has the technology to produce wooden wheels—race tyres and the latest, state-of-the-art tyres for motorsport. The factory also has a remarkable work force. They are highly skilled, and sons and daughters have followed their mothers and fathers there over the generations.

Jim Hood Portrait Mr Jim Hood (in the Chair)
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Order. Will Members please leave the Chamber quietly instead of having a chat during the debate?

Jack Dromey Portrait Jack Dromey
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I met one particular constituent in Kingstanding. He spoke about how he had worked for the factory for 20 years, his father-in-law had worked there for 42 years and his grandfather for 40 years—more than 100 years of service, all told.

When I was elected, my first priority was the future of the Jaguar plant, which was doomed to close. I worked with Tata Motors and the new management, and six months later came the historic announcement by Tata of its commitment to Britain and to Birmingham. Subsequently, we have seen Jaguar Land Rover become a world-class success story, with the Jaguar plant in my constituency now secure for the future.

The plant needs to expand, so Jaguar bought the land on which the Dunlop factory is located. Dunlop could have bought that land but declined so to do. A year ago, therefore, we swung into action and engaged with the company, with Birmingham city council and with the Homes and Communities Agency. I thank Sir Albert Bore, the leader of the council, and the Homes and Communities Agency for the way they worked with the company to identify a site but three miles from the current site in Erdington, at Aston advanced manufacturing hub.

Indeed, on 24 July Sir Albert Bore wrote to Dunlop, saying that there was sufficient land available at a competitive price and that the council would assist with a package to aid relocation of the factory. There was no answer. In parallel, I met senior management of the company three times over a nine-month period, together with the unions representing the work force, the GMB and Unite. On each occasion I asked whether the company would agree to look at alternatives in Birmingham. There was no answer.

In November I wrote to the global chief executive of Goodyear, Rich Kramer, who is based in Ohio in the United States of America, and asked, “Would you look at alternatives for remaining in Birmingham?” There was no answer. I then approached Jaguar Land Rover, and asked whether it would be prepared to extend Dunlop’s lease to allow Dunlop time to build a new factory and relocate. Jaguar Land Rover said to me, “Jack, we can’t get an answer.” However, it agreed to extend the lease by a further three months. There was still no answer from Dunlop.

I then asked the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills to intervene, and he did so. I cannot praise him too highly for the steps that he took. He convened an urgent meeting with the chair of Goodyear Dunlop in Britain and Ireland, Erich Fric, on 30 January. Seven times I had to ask, “Will you look at options to remain in Birmingham?” The first six times, there was no answer. Eventually, on the seventh occasion, the chief executive said, “Yes, we will.” The Business Secretary pushed the button straight away for a meeting, which took place the following day, between civil servants from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, Birmingham city council, the Homes and Communities Agency and UK Trade & Investment. The people at that meeting identified three proposals for Dunlop to relocate in Birmingham, and said that they would put together a package to assist that relocation.

A meeting was scheduled with Dunlop for the following Friday. We thought that at last it was going to do the decent thing and look at alternatives. However, but four days after that meeting, on 3 February Goodyear Dunlop announced its intention to cease manufacturing in Birmingham. In my 40 years in the world of work, I cannot remember any employer acting with such cavalier contempt towards a loyal and long-standing work force. A decision had been made 3,600 miles away, in Ohio, when the factory could have moved but 3 miles and remained in Birmingham.

Dismay has been expressed throughout Birmingham. The city has a great industrial history and the Dunlop factory in Erdington has been a great part of that history. Dismay has also been expressed by the £9 billion motorsport industry. Dismay has been expressed at the highest levels, including by our Prime Minister—I thank the Prime Minister for his intervention, in which he urged Goodyear Dunlop to look seriously at alternatives so as to remain in Birmingham.

Dismay has also been expressed by the reputable Dunlop, Dunlop Aircraft Tyres. Its factory is also in my constituency, and is mercifully no longer owned by Goodyear. It has issued a press statement, and its chairman, Ian Edmondson, could not be clearer: whatever Goodyear does with the motorsport factory, Dunlop Aircraft Tyres is committed to Birmingham, will invest in Birmingham and will grow its business in Birmingham—what a contrast with Goodyear Dunlop motorsports. I thank him for what he has said and done. I also thank the Birmingham Post and the Birmingham Mail for their outstanding championing of the cause of the motorsport factory. They have stood up for Birmingham.

Dismay has been expressed in those ways, but what has been particularly heartbreaking is the dismay expressed by the work force. I will quote from one of the many e-mails I received shortly after the announcement was made. This particular individual has worked in the factory for nearly 30 years. He said:

“To be cast aside like a spare penny is heartbreaking and gut wrenching. I feel physically sick writing this, but feel our voices and our perspective of the situation have not been heard. I drove home today and pulled up on my driveway not even remembering how I got here. My brain is doing somersaults, not sure I’ll sleep tonight knowing I’ve got to get up at 5:00 and somehow drag myself back to the place that used to feed and clothe my family. A place I used to be proud to say I worked. A place that no longer needs my services after years of hard work and dedication, commitment and loyalty…the same company knows none of the above for me and my work mates.”

I have had so many other approaches of that kind, including one from a daughter who was absolutely distraught about her father. He is in his 50s and has worked at the factory for 25 years. He is not well, and his daughter said to me, “Jack, I fear for the future for him. I don’t know what he is going to do. He is in despair.”

It is not just dismay that has been caused: there is also the fear expressed by the work force. I have had e-mail after e-mail and approach after approach from people expressing their dismay but saying, “Please don’t identify me.” In the words of one:

“I’m a Dunlop motorsport employee and would really like you not disclose my contact with yourself as it will probably give good reason for them to dismiss myself”.

E-mail after e-mail, approach after approach, call after call has said exactly the same thing.

Birmingham and its workers will not be intimidated. Their message, our message, and the message of this House and of our Government—I pay tribute once again to the role the Government have played—is abundantly clear: Goodyear Dunlop has both a moral and a legal responsibility to look at the alternatives to closure that are on the table. My message to Goodyear Dunlop today is that even at this stage it should sit down, do the decent thing, engage, look at alternatives allowing it to remain in Birmingham, and not betray Birmingham and Britain.

Jim Hood Portrait Mr Jim Hood (in the Chair)
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Order. I must have notice if hon. Members wish to speak and I have received no notice from the Minister or the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) wishes to speak. Without that notice, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield cannot speak, unless the Minister and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington consent.

Richard Burden Portrait Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab)
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I apologise, Mr Hood. I notified the Speaker’s Office, the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) that I wanted to speak. I apologise that the message did not get through. I thank the Minister and my hon. Friend for allowing me to say a few words because the matter is very important to Birmingham, and I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate.

I want to speak briefly about Dunlop’s relationship and importance to Britain’s motor sport industry. It is an industry in which we lead the world with eight of the 11 Formula 1 teams based in the UK, and Dunlop has been part of that industry. The premier motor racing championship in the UK is the British touring car championship, which is sponsored by Dunlop. It is a proud partner and we are proud to have it as a partner in that championship. However, although Formula 1 and the British touring car championship are at the top of the motor sport tree in the UK, no tree is healthy if its roots are not healthy. Dunlop has been and is important to the grass roots of motor sport because the specialist tyres that are produced in Birmingham are vital to that series continuing.

In a former life, I did some motor sport with the 750 motor club, which was typical of the grass-roots motor sport scene in the UK. Its championships often rely on Dunlop tyres. If Dunlop leaves the UK, will those specialist tyres that are manufactured on a small scale continue to be manufactured here? I hope they will, but there is doubt about that, and I am not the only one to have that doubt. Steve Neal, managing director of Rimstock plc, a winning team in the British touring car championship—the Honda works team—has voiced precisely those fears if Dunlop departs from Birmingham.

Echoing my hon. Friend, I too appeal to Dunlop and Goodyear. If they continue to support the motor sport industry, which has been good for their company and its profile, as well as its tyres being important to the industry, why are they leaving Birmingham? Alternative sites have been offered, and three have been developed in detail. There is even a site at Longbridge in my constituency if they prefer that. There are all sorts of options for Dunlop, so why leave the epicentre of the global motor sport industry, which is in the UK?

I add my thanks to Ministers for their support in this campaign, but the focus must be on Dunlop. The arguments against leaving are clear and the alternatives that have been offered are clear, but more can be explored if that is wanted. The question is: why is it doing what it is doing?

Matt Hancock Portrait The Minister for Skills and Enterprise (Matthew Hancock)
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Thank you, Mr Hood, for your flexibility and chairmanship. At this stage, the Minister normally congratulates the hon. Member who has secured the debate, and I do so wholeheartedly not only on that but on his approach to the issue. The campaign is truly cross-party work between local Members, the Government, the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, the Prime Minister, local BIS officials in the west midlands and local authorities who are working to obtain a positive resolution in difficult circumstances.

The central argument that the UK is a leading player in motor sport is important. Around 4,500 companies are connected with motor sport and they employ more than 40,000 people, with around 40% of the world’s high performance motor sport engineers in the UK. As the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) said, eight of the 11 Formula 1 teams are based here, and last year 17 of the 19 races were won by British-built cars. Britain has a cluster of motor sport expertise. Dunlop’s long and proud history on its Birmingham site goes back to 1902, and it sells some 300,000 bespoke tyres around the world. Those exports from Birmingham are important, and we do not want them or the skilled work force to be lost.

The hon. Gentleman said that the Prime Minister has written to Dunlop. We are urging it to look again at a UK option during this period of statutory consultation. We are working with the council and BIS locally in the west midlands, and with the company to try to persuade it to take up options. Possible new sites have been discussed and financial aid remains on the table—I stress that. The final decision is a commercial one for Dunlop, but we are working extremely hard to try to retain its presence here in the UK.

The hon. Gentleman referred to Goodyear Dunlop’s moral and legal responsibility. We are trying to ensure that its commercial decision will be to remain in the UK. This debate has demonstrated the full-throated support of the Government and local Members and it has been an opportunity for us all to reiterate that support.

If the company decides to proceed with the proposed closure, the Government will ensure that the people affected will receive the best possible support to help them to find new jobs. They will do so with Birmingham city council, which is engaged in case that happens. Goodyear Dunlop has confirmed that it remains committed to the UK through its Tyre Fort sales and distribution centre in Birmingham and the manufacturing plant in Wolverhampton, which together employ around 700 people We remain hopeful that we can work with the company to retain motor sport research and development in the west midlands.

Whatever the outcome, the situation with Dunlop motor sport should not be allowed to overshadow the wider success of the automotive industry, which the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington mentioned. The plant is next to the Jaguar Land Rover plant, which is a great symbol of the automotive industry’s renaissance. There has been striking growth in recent years with a sales increase of 19% in 2013 to more than 425,000 vehicles, and revenue up 17%. In September 2013, JLR announced plans to create 1,700 more jobs in Solihull as part of a £1.5 billion investment.

JLR, the supply chain and others tell a positive story, which reiterates that the UK, and particularly the west midlands, has a cluster of some of the most advanced automotive skills in the world. Development in most areas is positive and moving forward. The Government’s commitment at all levels—local and national—is very clear, and I hope that that message goes out from today’s debate, not least because ensuring that we have a high-productivity automotive sector is a big opportunity for a future with great potential. However, that does not make this specific decision any easier. We are playing our part to try to bring a positive solution, and both immediately and in the medium and longer term, we are absolutely committed to doing everything that we can.

The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills has put personal time and commitment into trying to bring a positive outcome. We are doing everything we can, and I hope that we can continue to work with the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington and colleagues from across the west midlands to try to make an offer that is as positive as possible, and communicate that to Goodyear Dunlop, while, with realism, ensuring that we are prepared should the proposal go ahead. I look forward to working with colleagues in Government and across the House to do all that we can to keep this great and historic production facility here in the UK.

Sitting suspended.