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Manufacturing

Volume 489: debated on Wednesday 11 March 2009

The manufacturing industry is, of course, very important to Wales. According to the latest available figures, the sector employs about 13.5 per cent. of the Welsh work force.

The manufacturing industry in the UK has taken a very hard hit in the recession, and that is perhaps even more true of Wales. Is the Secretary of State aware of the concerns of many in the manufacturing work force in Wales who work for foreign companies that there may be plans to offshore employment? Examples of such companies include Toyota in north Wales and Corus in south Wales; Corus has a plant in the Netherlands. What discussion has he had with other Ministers, and with the Welsh Assembly, to ensure that that does not happen?

The hon. Lady makes a valid point. I have of course had discussions with my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary, and with the First Minister and Deputy First Minister of Wales. I have also discussed the issue of Corus with the chief executive of Corus. The point that the hon. Lady makes about foreign-owned companies in Wales is well taken, but I have no reason to believe that that will be a disadvantage to us in Wales in the months to come. In my constituency, for example, thousands of people work for car component manufacturers that are American-owned, and so far, so good. Obviously, they are feeling the pinch, like all manufacturing companies, and particularly those in the automotive industry, but I very much take her point on board.

My right hon. Friend and his colleagues in Government should be congratulated on the work that they are doing to get information to small and medium-sized businesses about the various schemes that are there to help. However, the Treasury Committee has been taking evidence in Northern Ireland, Scotland and the north of England, and one of the messages that we are getting back from some businesses is that they are not aware of all the schemes. May I urge my right hon. Friend to contact his right hon. Friends in the Cabinet to ensure that all the information and all the schemes are made available direct to small and medium-sized businesses, so that they can approach the banks, and not wait for the banks to approach them?

Yes. My hon. Friend is of course a distinguished member of the Treasury Committee, and he makes a valid point. The issue of information is very important. The “Real help now” information is available on all Government websites, and on the websites of the devolved Administrations, including the Welsh Assembly Government, but more work is necessary, particularly locally. Most local authorities in Wales are now organising economic summits in their areas. There was one in my area on Friday, for example, and I know that there is to be a summit in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Wales. Information is best disseminated at the most local level, but I very much take the points that my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen, West and South Pembrokeshire (Nick Ainger) makes.

Only yesterday, I received notice that the Newtown factory branch of Trelleborg Sealing Solutions is to cut about 56 jobs, following similar examples at Stadco and Floform. What plans does the Secretary of State have to make sure that the manufacturing skills gap does not widen in Montgomeryshire, and is there potential to divert money specifically into the manufacturing base in mid-Wales, so that we can replace the jobs that we are losing with green jobs in the green economy, which provides both manufacturing opportunities and sustainable economic activity for the longer term?

Yes, and that is certainly a priority of the United Kingdom Government, and of the Welsh Assembly Government, too. It is important that the hon. Gentleman and other Members who represent Welsh constituencies are aware of the various schemes available to businesses in Wales, particularly the ProAct scheme. It is unique to Wales and is very effective. Some 75 applications have now been processed, and 66 of them are from the automotive industry. Ten have been accepted. That represents nearly 6,000 workers, so it is a very real scheme, and it means that real money goes to help businesses such as the one that the hon. Gentleman described. I take the point that he makes about the green industry; that is a priority for both Governments.

Will my right hon. Friend take no lessons from Conservative Members on the impact of the global credit crunch on manufacturing in Wales? Their policies in the 1980s and ’90s decimated manufacturing in Wales, and they show every sign of wanting to repeat those policies. I hope that my right hon. Friend will stand up against them.

I certainly agree that, during the recessions back in the time of Mrs. Thatcher’s Government, the situation was very different. It is most important to understand that we cannot simply sit back and do nothing. The Labour Government here, and a Labour-led coalition in Cardiff, are actually being positive about the help that we can give businesses in Wales. That is something that we did not see before, and I fear that we are not seeing that from the Conservative Opposition now.

The Secretary of State will know that Toyota announced today that it is putting its factory on Deeside on short-time working and its staff on reduced pay. He has already mentioned the importance of the automotive industry to the Welsh economy. Given that importance, does he know precisely when the automotive assistance programme, which was announced with so much fanfare in January, will be implemented? Is it another case not of real help now, but of jam tomorrow?

No; the hon. Gentleman is aware that some of the schemes are to operate at different times. For example, in April at least six schemes are due to go live, including help for the automotive industry. There are other schemes that have already started. I cited to the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) the excellent ProAct scheme that works in Wales. The schemes are staggered in time scale, but they are about real help for people. The hon. Member for Clwyd, West (Mr. Jones) is right that the delivery of such schemes must be a main priority of Government, whether here in London or in Cardiff. Help is available, and it is up to the industry to apply for that help.