Debates between Margaret Beckett and Theresa Villiers

There have been 3 exchanges between Margaret Beckett and Theresa Villiers

1 Tue 12th July 2011 Train-building Industry
Department for Transport
7 interactions (1,495 words)
2 Thu 23rd June 2011 Oral Answers to Questions
Department for Transport
2 interactions (145 words)
3 Thu 5th May 2011 Oral Answers to Questions
Department for Transport
3 interactions (122 words)

Train-building Industry

Debate between Margaret Beckett and Theresa Villiers
Tuesday 12th July 2011

(9 years, 9 months ago)

Westminster Hall

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Department for Transport
Margaret Beckett Portrait Margaret Beckett
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I agree in part with the hon. Lady. I take her point entirely that we are really interested in the future, but let us not overlook the fact that we have barely started. The procurement process has not concluded. All that has happened is that a preferred bidder has been identified and negotiations have been opened. The hon. Member for Amber Valley referred to the intercity express programme contract. In the hands of the Department for Transport, that went to Hitachi, but the contract for that has not yet been signed. Indeed, just before the election the previous Government ordered a review of that contract, and this Government have substantially renegotiated it. We are very far from the conclusion of this bidding process, so although I share the hon. Lady’s view entirely that we should look to the future—I will come to that issue in a second—to secure that future we must not abandon the prospect of changing the present circumstances and the award of this contract.

One concern about the attitude that the company is likely to take relates precisely to the issue of opportunities for the future. If this procurement goes ahead, we may lose the opportunity of an offer made by Bombardier. As I understand it, it has decided at the highest level to establish a worldwide centre of excellence for the design and manufacture of new cars for high-speed trains, for future procurement—of exactly the kind referred to in the debate. Bombardier was prepared to site that worldwide centre of excellence in Derby. That offer was, in effect, thrown back in its face. That concerns me greatly. We would be talking about more jobs—jobs with even higher skills levels than we see now, and with the potential for new technologies. Although I and many in my party applaud what the Cabinet and the Prime Minister said in my Derby constituency about manufacturing, skills and the need to rebalance our economy, the skills base in our city is not just Bombardier; it is also Rolls-Royce. We are a strong manufacturing base, but that base depends on the interaction between those two companies, among others, on the supply chain, and on their ability to work together to establish and maintain that skills base.

Theresa Villiers Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mrs Theresa Villiers)
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Does the right hon. Lady acknowledge that the Government of which she was a member set the criteria for the procurement, and that there is no way for this Government simply to ignore the Siemens bid and give the contract to Bombardier? We are bound by the criteria and by European Union rules and we cannot simply rip up the process. Is she advocating that we stop the procurement altogether and start afresh? That would delay considerably the Thameslink programme—which we inherited from the previous Government already running 16 years late—and we would still have no guarantee of Bombardier being the winner at the end of the new procurement process.

Margaret Beckett Portrait Margaret Beckett
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I am sorry that the Minister decided that this was a good time to make that party political point, when all of us are present to get her and her Department to change their minds and look afresh at all the implications. We all know from our constituents that there are very real questions about whether the right decision has been made and whether proper account has been taken. We have talked about the financing so far, but we have also touched on whether the vehicle is fit for purpose and whether Siemens—although it is a fine company with a great engineering tradition—has the capacity to supply the trains needed.

I am genuinely quite sad that the Minister made that point. As the storm has arisen, not only in the Derby area but in the north-west and elsewhere, we have been inundated with requests from people throughout the country, with other Members and members of the public asking, “What can we do to help? This is a mad decision and none of us agrees with it.” However, for some days I have had the feeling that, to get the Government off the hook on which they so far seem determined to impale themselves, some have been saying, in effect—I am prepared to exempt the Minister—“If we can palm off the blame for this on to the previous Government, then we don’t need to look again at the decision.” I am sorry, but that will not wash this time, because of genuine concern about how the financing was handled, about the train, about the lost opportunity for new manufacturing in the UK and about the knock-on effect on Rolls-Royce. This is not a done deal.

The hon. Member for South Derbyshire (Heather Wheeler) referred to the chair of Bombardier in the UK going to South Africa with the Prime Minister to promote British exports. I would not blame him for viewing the journey with some irony. In South Africa, they will be travelling on new trains, made by Bombardier for South African Railways, which felt able to award that contract. We can all ask why Bombardier could win that contract, but not one in this country.

We are very much at the opening stage in the process of negotiating the contract. The Government have only recently taken delivery of the McNulty report, which also considers the supply chain; we have hardly touched on that yet this morning, but the implications throughout the country are enormous. Genuinely, I say to the Government that this decision is a mistake. I do not accept the simple case that they have put because, as I pointed out, there were opportunities for the Department to look at the financing, but let me take a step back from that. They can blame it on us if they like, but they must change the decision—that is what matters.

Break in Debate

Theresa Villiers Portrait Mrs Villiers
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Even if we had designed the criteria, it remains the case that we could not have made the location of the manufacturing process a condition of successfully achieving the contract; that is simply not permitted by EU law. However, I totally deny the allegation that the Government are sitting back and not taking action. I agree that we need to take action to help Derby and Bombardier. The reality is that Bombardier advised the Department for Transport that it expected to make more than 1,000 redundancies, regardless of the outcome of the Thameslink procurement, because several of its orders are about to reach completion. However, whatever the reason for the redundancies, we want to try to help Derby and the surrounding area at this difficult time.

As a result of the review by Bombardier of its UK rail operations, the Business Secretary has set up an economic response taskforce. It will he headed by Margaret Gildea and its remit will be to mitigate the economic impact of job losses at Bombardier, in its supply chain and in local communities. It will draw on representatives from Derby city council, the county council, Derby college and the Skills Funding Agency. Jobcentre Plus will also deploy its rapid response service, to support workers who will be affected. That is in addition to the work on skills that the Government have been involved with in Derby in partnership with Rolls-Royce and Bombardier, and the support that the Department for Transport is giving to the National Skills Academy for Railway Engineering, which my hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire (Heather Wheeler) mentioned. We shall do our best to help Bombardier to get the overseas contracts it is bidding for, such as in South Africa. That is one reason why representatives from Bombardier will accompany the Prime Minister on his visit to South Africa, which is coming up.

Margaret Beckett Portrait Margaret Beckett
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I should not be a bit surprised if those representatives make the point that it will not help them to gain confidence overseas if they cannot get contracts at home.

I want to raise a point that has been made in several quarters, about the job losses. I, too, have seen the letter from Bombardier to the Secretary of State. It makes two things clear, one of which is that, indeed, as no one has attempted to deny, there were temporary, short-term contract jobs that were due to come to an end, which is a pity. However, it is also clear that more than 400 skilled engineers and designers are being made redundant now because of the loss of the Thameslink contract. Also, I know that the Department has been aware for some time, as I hope Ministers have, that Bombardier has made it crystal clear that if it did not get the Thameslink contract, not only would the new jobs not be coming, but those 400-odd would be the start of the process. It is not right for the Minister to pretend that all those jobs were going to go anyway. That is just not true.

Theresa Villiers Portrait Mrs Villiers
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As I have said, whatever the reason for the job losses, it is important that we should work together to help Derby in this difficult time.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Margaret Beckett and Theresa Villiers
Thursday 23rd June 2011

(9 years, 9 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Transport
Theresa Villiers Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mrs Theresa Villiers)
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I would be entirely happy to do that. It is important that all rail passengers have access to reliable services. The Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) and I are very focused on that issue and would be happy to meet my hon. Friend.

Margaret Beckett Portrait Margaret Beckett (Derby South) (Lab)
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Is the Secretary of State aware that words such as “rebalancing our economy to promote private sector jobs and skilled manufacturing” ring very hollow in Derby, where 3,000 such jobs are now at risk as a result of a decision to build Thameslink trains in Germany? I understand that the Government reviewed and reconfirmed the contract after the election, but I understand also that the Secretary of State still has the power to call in the process and to invite the bidders to re-tender. Can he confirm that he will now do so?

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Margaret Beckett and Theresa Villiers
Thursday 5th May 2011

(9 years, 11 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Transport
Theresa Villiers Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mrs Theresa Villiers)
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I am happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss the matter. I have given the issue careful consideration, but she will know that changes to the franchise, which require extra subsidy, would be difficult to approve in the current fiscal climate.

Margaret Beckett Portrait Margaret Beckett (Derby South) (Lab)
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Does the Secretary of State recognise that there is strong cross-party support in the House, not only for British manufacturing in general, but in particular for the sole remaining British train maker, which eagerly awaits the award of the contract for the Thameslink line? What is the timing for that?

Theresa Villiers Portrait Mrs Villiers
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We expect to make some announcements on that contract imminently. Towards the end the year, we expect to draw towards contractual close. We will make further announcements in due course.