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Redundancies (York)

Volume 450: debated on Monday 9 October 2006

I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 24, to discuss a specific and important matter that I believe should receive urgent consideration—namely, the serious job losses in York over the summer at British Sugar, Norwich Union and Nestlé Rowntree.

In July, British Sugar said that it would close the York sugar factory after this winter’s beet processing campaign, with the loss of more than 100 permanent jobs. Seasonal workers and the factory’s suppliers—farmers and road hauliers—will lose their jobs too. Then, in September, Norwich Union announced the loss of 450 jobs in York from its life assurance business, and the following week Nestlé Rowntree announced plans for 645 redundancies at its York factory.

Those job losses are a body blow for the workers and their families, who will lose their livelihoods. Many of them will find it hard to get alternative jobs with similar pay because their industrial skills, which used to be so highly valued, are no longer in demand.

The job losses are a shock to the York economy, which has been performing well in recent years. Unemployment in my constituency dropped from a high of 6,500 under the Conservatives to 1,300 in 2004, but since then, with the closure of York’s other chocolate factory, Terry’s, and other retrenchment, it has climbed back to 1,700, and sadly will rise higher as those latest job losses feed through into the unemployment figures.

Average wages in York have risen sharply since 1997, but over the last two years average male earnings have fallen back. Those job losses have been a wake-up call for York. Following my suggestion, the council has commissioned an independent review of the city’s employment strategy, involving business leaders from science, transport, tourism, manufacturing and services.

York’s experience should be a wake-up call to national Government too. The Government need to re-examine their manufacturing and competition policies. The Bank of England is warning that the overvalued pound is costing manufacturing jobs, and it is putting pressure on service industries, too, as Norwich Union’s decision to transfer some back-office functions to low-wage economies shows. It is all very well to enjoy cheap summer holidays abroad, on the back of a strong pound, but the memories fade pretty fast when people come home to find that their job has gone. The strong pound is hitting incoming tourism, too, which also matters to York.

My city needs support from the Government and from Yorkshire Forward to help redundant workers find new jobs and to encourage inward investment to York. We also need the Government to re-examine their regional economic strategy and to work with York’s employment review to bolster York’s regional role as a science city, for example, and as a centre for financial services and civil service jobs. Given the pressure on food manufacturing jobs in particular, the Government need to make sure that the Competition Commission uses its investigation of the groceries trade to see whether the big supermarkets are putting too much pressure on their suppliers, to the point that the suppliers are cutting jobs.

Those are the urgent matters that I want the House to discuss, Mr. Deputy Speaker, either this afternoon, if you see fit to adjourn the House, or at some other time in the near future.

I have listened carefully to what the hon. Gentleman has said, and I must give my decision without stating any reasons. I am afraid that I do not consider that the matter that he has raised is appropriate for discussion under Standing Order No. 24, and I cannot therefore submit the application to the House.