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Sheffield Forgemasters

Volume 510: debated on Thursday 3 June 2010

10. Whether he has discussed with Sheffield Forgemasters the continued availability of a loan facility from his Department; and if he will make a statement. (776)

At this time, I have not discussed with Sheffield Forgemasters the continuing availability of the loan facility but, as the then Chief Secretary’s statement on 17 May made clear, all projects that were approved after 1 January 2010, including this one, are undergoing a process of review. An announcement will be made in due course as part of the review.

I thank the Secretary of State for his answer, but will he acknowledge that the loan was crucial in levering in significant private sector investment to enable the acquisition of the largest forging press outside Japan and Korea? Over three years, the loan was subject to rigorous review by the shareholder executive and a value-for-money exercise, and this further review is causing unnecessary uncertainty. Will he therefore urgently get rid of that uncertainty, give Forgemasters the confidence to move forward and confirm the loan?

I understand the importance of that project to the hon. Gentleman’s constituency and to Sheffield, but he needs to understand that we inherited a very large number of projects that were agreed in a hurry in the run-up to the general election. I do not want to speculate about the motives, but we inherited a lot of projects that were of variable quality. We now have to judge those projects, including this one, according to the criteria of value for money and affordability.

Let me assure the House that the Sheffield Forgemasters project was not agreed in a hurry. Does the Secretary of State understand that the decision of the last Government to provide a loan, not a grant, to that company was about not just support for one company but our ambition to secure a national capability for the United Kingdom in making key components for the nuclear supply chain that is set to grow throughout the world in the coming years? Does he also accept that if the damaging uncertainty not only about this but about other important projects, such as the electric car at Nissan and the automotive assistance to Ford, is not resolved soon, all the Government’s talk about supporting a lower-carbon economy will be seen as nothing more than rhetoric, with their actions going in entirely the opposite direction?

I understand the issue because I have studied the reasoning behind the project. However, the hon. Gentleman has got to understand that we must do due diligence and a lot of projects have to be reviewed. There is also the basic question of affordability. We have inherited a very serious financial situation and all such projects must be judged against whether money is available for them.