Skip to main content

Major Capital Contracts (Skills Training Requirements)

Volume 506: debated on Tuesday 2 March 2010

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require public authorities letting contracts for major capital works to require contractors to provide apprenticeships and skills training; and for connected purposes.

My reason for introducing this Bill, which I am sure will have widespread support across the House, is that we have seen some major disputes in recent times—notably at the Lindsey oil refinery and the Staythorpe power station in Nottinghamshire—and a new dispute is emerging only this week at Milford Haven. In these disputes, local workers and their unions have repeatedly made the case that they have been excluded from the ability to apply for jobs on major construction works.

I spoke at the Staythorpe workers’ demonstration in Newark last year. I spoke again last month when the Staythorpe workers came to London to lobby Ministers. Those workers and their unions have been clear about their basic demands. I have had the opportunity to speak to them and to listen to them in great detail. Their view is that it is wholly unfair that such contracts can be let without giving their workers, who have the necessary skills, an opportunity to apply for the jobs.

The Prime Minister once talked about “British jobs for British workers”, and the workers at Lindsey and Staythorpe took up that theme. They defined it, although in some of the reporting their clear definitions have been lost. I pay tribute to the way in which they conducted themselves, not least in ensuring that the bigots who attempted to attach themselves to those disputes were sent packing by the work force and by the unions, as was appropriate.

The Bill provides the detail that will enable us to spell out what the Prime Minister’s slogan should actually mean, and it does so in three ways. The first relates to major public contracts, of which there are many. They have included the Crossrail contract that has recently been let, and the Olympic park, which also involves a major capital contract. There are also major contracts involving schools and hospital programmes. Perhaps the biggest of all will be the contracts for the new nuclear power stations. They will be huge contracts under which tens of thousands of workers will be employed, directly and indirectly, on constructing the power stations that this country so urgently needs.

Under the Bill, there would be a legal requirement that all jobs relating to a contract for major public works worth more than £50 million must be advertised in local jobcentres. That is a rather modest provision, but it was precisely the demand of the workers in my area, and elsewhere in Nottinghamshire and the midlands, who were denied the opportunity to apply for jobs at Staythorpe power station.

I want to say a few words about the scandal of Staythorpe, which was comparable to the scandal of the Lindsey oil refinery. At Staythorpe, the employers cut the wages and conditions of British workers and flew in 300 workers from Italy. They put them up in cheap dormitories and underpaid them in comparison with the locally and nationally negotiated pay rates. There were also major questions about health and safety. The Bill would make it much harder for that to happen, and it would make it illegal not to allow such jobs to be advertised in the local jobcentres.

Other provisions would do something far more powerful on contract compliance. The first would put a requirement on all public contracts of a certain size—the figure in the Bill is more than £50 million—that 2 per cent. of the entire work force, including subcontractors, sub-subcontractors and agency workers, should be new apprentices. Where there is a major power station, such as at West Burton in my constituency where a new gas power station is being built, and particularly when the public purse is paying for those contracts, 2 per cent. would mean 20 apprentices for every 1,000 workers, which seems a modest but reasonable input into developing skills when letting all major public contracts.

The Bill also provides for a specific legal requirement that all contracts involve a precise one hour’s training a week, carried out in conjunction with local colleges, for the existing work force. That would mean—it is crucial for new nuclear build—that we would upgrade the skills at all levels of our work force, although, of course, that would be determined by the companies because it would be reasonable for them to decide which skills were required. When companies win these major contracts, with the help of local training providers, they can upgrade skills for the future for building and managing big power stations or other major public works.

That combination would provide an economic advantage or a competitive advantage in all contracts to companies that have an employment base in this country, while it would disadvantage others, such as the US company Bechtel, that come in and hoover up employees from elsewhere, including from competitors in this country, every time they win a contract here. Such companies contribute nothing to our skills base, as they just do the work and get out.

I think that this provides a realistic definition for the slogan “British jobs for British workers”. As we all know, British workers, including those on the demonstrations, are of all colours and creeds. Indeed, a number have been born in many different lands, but those living and paying taxes in this country should have the ability to do this work.

Finally, let me reiterate a point about apprentices. We have huge new nuclear build ahead that will provide employment for vast numbers of workers. That work should go to companies based in this country, such as Laing O’Rourke, which employs 350 people in a world-leading, pre-cast cement works in Worksop in my constituency. It is those companies that should be winning these contracts, not companies from afar that poach the work force and contribute nothing to the skills base. For our young people, the thought of building these big power stations without large numbers of new apprentices learning building skills and power station management skills is not just outrageous, as that would be, but economically self-defeating.

I am certain that wise counsel on both sides of the House will enthusiastically support the Bill. It has the support of the workers I have met from Lindsey and Staythorpe, and of their unions as a way forward out of the disputes. Morally and economically, they are in the right and their employers are in the wrong.

Question put and agreed to.


That John Mann, Mr. Jamie Reed, Mr. Lindsay Hoyle, Mr. Frank Field, Bob Spink and Mr. Robert Flello present the Bill.

John Mann accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 12 March, and to be printed (Bill 80).