(Urgent Question): To ask the Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy if she will make a statement on the likelihood of over 1,000 jobs being lost across the north of England at BAE Systems Military Air & Information sites.
I know that the Government, and indeed all of us, are disappointed to hear the news that BAE Systems is considering reductions of up to 1,400 staff in its military air and information business, 375 in its maritime services division and 150 in its applied intelligence business. This is a concerning time for those working for BAE Systems, particularly in the run-up to Christmas. That is why I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government stand ready to support fully those affected. Indeed, colleagues across the Ministry of Defence, my Department and others are reviewing what support we can offer the company as it goes through this process. Of course, the Department for Work and Pensions is also standing by to provide whatever advice or support is required.
I would like to set out three main points. First, I will provide an update on the process; secondly, I will explain the rationale for the changes; and thirdly, I will set out what the Government are doing to support BAE Systems and this vital sector with our business. The company will now enter a 30-day statutory consultation process, and no final decisions will be taken about the level or type of redundancies until that process is complete. The Government will continue to work with BAE Systems to ensure that compulsory redundancies are kept to a minimum, and the company assures us that the reductions will be managed on a voluntary basis as far as possible. I emphasise that, as is usual in such cases, the DWP rapid response team is engaged and standing by, ready to deploy. It is incredibly important that the skills that people in the workforce have built up are retained in the UK industry as far as possible. That is why we will be using the talent retention system that was designed by my Department, working with the sector, to ensure that vital skills are not lost to the UK.
I turn now to the rationale for the announcement. The House should be absolutely clear that BAE Systems has taken this decision as a result of normal business practice. The decision is the result of internal restructuring and a drive to transform its business so that it can continue to be one of our most efficient and effective companies, generating export orders across the world. This is not related to any UK defence spending decisions. [Interruption.] Labour Members can shout all they like, but I hope that we can avoid getting politics into this. It was very striking how during conference speech after conference speech Labour Members—not the hon. Members opposite me, for whom I have great respect—went out of their way to criticise the industry that we are talking about. I suggest that we calm down and think about the people affected and what we can do to support them.
In the last year, the Ministry of Defence has spent almost £4 billion with BAE Systems, as part of the £18 billion—half of which is spent in the manufacturing sector—that we spend across Government buying products and services from UK industry. We continually bang the drum and lead the charge for our world-leading defence industry right across the globe, maximising export opportunities for companies such as BAE Systems and the thousands of people employed in their supply chains. Indeed, only last month the Defence Secretary signed a statement of intent with Qatar to buy 24 Typhoons and six Hawks from BAE Systems. This is extremely positive news, and it demonstrates continued confidence globally in Britain’s defence and aerospace industry. We will continue to work with BAE Systems to maximise opportunities for the Typhoon and the Hawk training aircraft, and the Type 26 global combat ship, in markets such as Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Belgium, Finland, Canada and Australia.
In conclusion, we absolutely understand that this is a worrying time for those affected. We are determined to do all we can to support BAE Systems’ future export opportunities, and I stand ready to meet workers, unions or MPs who are concerned about the potential impact of the announcement in their constituencies.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for allowing this urgent question. Today’s announcement by BAE Systems has come as a huge blow to thousands of workers and their families across Lancashire in the run-up to Christmas. The majority of Lancashire MPs have today written to the Prime Minister seeking immediate action and offering to establish a taskforce to avert the disaster. We ask the Minister for a swift, meaningful and positive response to our request.
What intermediate and longer-term actions are the Government taking to win contracts around the globe, to fly the flag and to sell the Eurofighter Typhoon and the Hawk? That is essential to sustaining the UK’s leading-edge technology and sovereign capability, as well as highly skilled jobs and the massive supply chain in the north-west of England. In order to maintain a leading edge, we must look to the future. BAE Systems has taken a big step by developing a £12 million academy in Lancashire. Will the Government play their role and announce an industrial strategy for aerospace, as they have done with shipbuilding, and will they commit themselves to assisting BAE Systems to develop a sixth-generation manned fighter aircraft?
With my right hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr Hoyle) and my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Graham P. Jones), I met Prime Minister Cameron to urge him to secure vital contracts with Japan and India. We were assured that there was good news on the horizon, but there clearly was not. The Minister mentioned Qatar and that is obviously positive, but it is nothing like the size of the other contracts. Lancashire builds the finest because we have the best workforce in the world. We do not want to be let down again, so I ask the Minister to use her good offices to impress on the Prime Minister the major concerns of Lancashire MPs and indeed of MPs from across the House.
I commend the hon. Gentleman and many of his colleagues for their absolutely resolute support both for the company and the sector. Of course I would be delighted to meet the taskforce, and I think we should extend the offer to the workers and unions affected. It is absolutely clear that we need maximum communication about the process, or to encourage the company to ensure maximum communication, particularly at this worrying time.
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the Government have a vital part to play in banging the drum for British exports. I have mentioned the Qatar statement of intent, and clearly there are ongoing conversations with countries, such as Saudi Arabia, that have expressed an interest in this technology. There is an appetite around the world for this technology. For every unit that is sold, the whole provision—supply and maintenance—will have a measurable impact on the work available for the hon. Gentleman’s constituents and those of other Members.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the industrial strategy for this sector. We are very keen—we are already having conversations about this with the aerospace sector—on a bespoke sector deal. He will know that we have worked with the industry, on initiatives such as the technology for the future combat air system, to set out what we need to do both across this export-facing part of the business and right across the supply chain to ensure we have the right level of investment and skills.
I call the good doctor—Dr Julian Lewis.
When BAE Systems says to the Government that this is normal business practice, will the Government reply to BAE Systems by reminding it that it is not a normal business, because it enjoys a near monopoly position in many parts of the British defence procurement structure? Will they therefore extract from BAE Systems a promise to work closely with the Government to examine to what extent any streamlining is really necessary and to what extent it can be ameliorated by common action, bearing in mind the special treatment that BAE Systems so often receives from the United Kingdom Government?
My right hon. Friend is right to remind us that we spend almost £4 billion in procuring products and services from BAE Systems. Again, if we want to have a globally competitive, highly efficient bastion of success in this vital industry, it is really important to allow the company to go through its management processes. Of course we want to procure from BAE Systems, but we also procure from a wide range of other suppliers. It would be wrong for the Government to try to interfere in business processes, but we can say that we are committed to making sure that the company does this as sensitively as possible.
We also want to explore other opportunities. I am struck by the locations of some of the plants that may be affected, and I am also struck by the investment opportunities with, for example, the Siemens investment in offshore wind turbine production in Hull. There are opportunities for skilled engineering staff right accross the UK and right across the region. [Interruption.] I am sorry to hear the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner), who knows Hull very well, talking down a major investment in skilled engineering. We remain absolutely committed to working with this company.
Employees and families across the country will be hit hard by the news that has come from BAE today. The loss of nearly 2,000 highly skilled jobs is nothing short of devastating for communities and local economies that have a proud history of defence manufacturing. Moreover, if these redundancies go ahead, there is a very real risk that these skills will be lost forever, with a knock-on impact on this country’s manufacturing capability. What support will the Government be offering to those highly skilled workers who have lost their jobs, and how will the Government support the communities affected?
A vibrant defence industry is vital for the security of this country and it brings immense economic benefits. In its statement, BAE points to uncertainty in future orders as a reason for the job cuts, and we know that the Government have pursued a stop-start approach which has not given the industry the long-term stability that it desperately needs. Will the Minister now agree that it is time for the Government to come forward with a proper defence industrial strategy to enable the sector to plan ahead? I know from my conversations with those in the industry that they are very concerned about the gaping funding holes in the MOD’s defence equipment plan. What action are the Government taking to address those and to give the industry confidence?
UK-based defence companies are also facing a great deal of uncertainty owing to the Government’s handling of Brexit. We know that the defence and aerospace industries have wide-reaching supply chains that cross many borders, so what steps are the Government taking to ensure that the sector is not disadvantaged by Brexit, and that companies do not take their manufacturing elsewhere?
Finally, the slowdown in Hawk production was also cited as a reason for cuts, but the Government could take immediate steps to counter that by bringing forward orders for nine new Hawk aircraft for the Red Arrows, thus securing their future as the face of the RAF and a global ambassador for British engineering across the world. That would provide a much needed boost to the industry. Can the Minister commit to doing that today?
This is no time for Government to stand by and do nothing. Ministers need to rise to their responsibilities and realise that proactive engagement with the industry could make a real difference to the workers concerned and to the future of our country’s defence industry.
I am entirely in agreement with the hon. Lady about the need to engage closely to understand the reasons. To reassure her on a couple of points that she raised, this is not due to any stop-start change in the Government’s procurement; this is in fact due to gaps in bringing forward some of the export orders. As I mentioned, the Secretary of State has signed a statement of intent with Qatar, and indeed we are standing by to do everything possible to support further export opportunities.
The hon. Lady may not have heard, but I mentioned the talent retention system. She is absolutely right: for too long we have not thought about people and their skills and worked out whether there are other opportunities, especially in the region, to ensure that those skills are not lost. That is why we will be deploying the talent retention system that has been developed by my Department with this industry, and looking to see what more can be done.
To allay some of the hon. Lady’s questions about our commitment to shipbuilding, I can tell her that we have published the national shipbuilding strategy. I am told that we will be bringing forward the refresh of the defence industry policy document very shortly.
We need to focus on the people who may be concerned about this, meet them to gain an understanding of their concerns, and see what more can be done, particularly to ensure that those vital skills are not lost to this or other sectors.
The tranche 3 variant of the Typhoon aircraft, especially when equipped with the new electronically scanned radar, will be one of the most capable and effective combat aircraft in the world. The Minister has already mentioned the letter of intent with Qatar for 24 Typhoons, and there are, as she has intimated, a number of other countries around the globe that are still interested in Typhoon, not least Saudi Arabia. Can she assure Members in all parts of the House that, just as the Government gave strong support to the Qatari deal, they will strain every sinew to try to support further Typhoon exports, not least in Saudi Arabia?
I am nervously rising to answer a question from my right hon. Friend, who knows more about this than many of us will ever know. He is absolutely right: not only have we signed the statement of intent, but only last month the Secretary of State got on a plane to Saudi Arabia to press the case for using these aircraft, not just for the upfront sale but for the thousands of jobs that depend on the long-term upgrade and servicing.
All Members across the House should be supporting these export deals and the jobs that are reliant on them. It was a shame that hon. Members—[Interruption.] Well, they say, “Here we go.” Perhaps they were not listening at conference. It was a shame that the right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) used her moment on the Labour party conference podium to attack the Government for strengthening co-operation and the deals that this brings with our key regional ally. Let us get behind this industry, so that we can protect and invest in this technology for the future.
This morning’s news is deeply worrying for BAE workforces across the UK, and we have only just heard that that includes 15 workers in Fife. Of course, it is not just the 2,000 BAE workers who will be affected but the small and medium-sized enterprises, the supply chains and the communities as well. The SNP offer our sympathy this morning to all those who are affected directly and indirectly by today’s announcement.
This is the latest evidence of the Government failing to deliver on defence programmes, and this is not just about an export industry. This is about undermining skilled jobs, undermining our own defence industry and undermining the defence of the UK as a whole. What are the Government doing to investigate what has gone wrong in BAE?
Skilled workers have been mentioned a number of times. Skilled workers are exactly that—skilled. They cannot easily move from one position to another; extra training is required, so what are the Government doing to assist them? And what has been done to provide guarantees to those who are currently still employed in the sector?
Finally, can the Minister now confirm that future MOD orders will come as a steady drumbeat, and not be plagued by the dithering, delays and indecision that have contributed to today’s announcement?
I appreciate that point, and of course the hon. Lady is right to speak for those who may be concerned about their job future, but she represents, proudly, I know, a country that has built two of the largest ships the Royal Navy has ever purchased and that has contracts to build eight Type 26 frigates and five offshore patrol vehicles—two decades’ worth of shipbuilding contracts signed by this Government. She refers to a stop-start approach. That is why the strategic defence and security review system has been brought forward. That is why we are absolutely determined to spend taxpayers’ money wisely, and supporting British industry, UK industry, is fundamental to that. I suggest that she has a look at some of those proud ships—the QE2 class—and perhaps she will come back just a little bit more cheerful.
As the Member of Parliament for Warton, where final assembly of Hawk and Typhoon takes place and where 750 of the jobs that will be lost are largely located, I urge the Minister to work, as the Government did in 2011, to mitigate job losses. Then a 3,000 headline figure was mitigated to 100 compulsory losses. A similar effort must be put in this time.
Secondly, thank you for the work that the Government are doing on supporting defence exports, particularly to Qatar and Saudi Arabia, with the Prime Minister’s visits to Bahrain and Saudi and the Defence Secretary’s visit to Qatar. Please will the Minister not be put off by siren voices that want us to disengage from the largest export customers for these aircraft?
My hon. Friend makes the case very powerfully. Of course, at Warton there are some additional benefits from the F-35 contracts being brought forward, but he is absolutely right to say that we must be really focused on these jobs and the uncertainty, but we must also be resolute in pursuing export opportunities for this fine British company.
The Red Arrows renewal programme is well overdue and is entirely in the Government’s gift. If it was renewed, it would save jobs at Brough and the Lancashire plants. Get on with it!
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman’s pulses beat a little faster when the Red Arrows come over, as mine do when they fly over my constituency. I hear what he says and will discuss it with Ministers, but will he please work with me and others to ensure that this uncertainty is minimised for those in his constituency?
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is somewhat concerning, if not a little peculiar, that those who are standing up, notably representatives of the SNP, to condemn these job losses sing the praises of BAE, quite rightly, yet support a policy of being opposed to all arms sales, notably to Saudi Arabia?
My right hon. Friend knows that I share her position. I would make the point that these are potential job losses and that we are at the start of the process. There has to be a consultation period. A significant amount of work needs to be done with the unions, the workforce, broader industry and skilled employers right across the affected regions to ensure that we do not lose skills, that we minimise job losses, and that any job losses that do come forward are managed through voluntary redundancy.
The bottom line is that, had exports gone to plan, these sites would not be in this position. We have heard a lot of commitment in words, but we need to see action from the Government. May I make what I hope is a constructive suggestion? The Minister’s point on participation has been heard and I suggest she does not repeat it now. There are ambassadors all around this House, including on the Labour Benches, who could help in an official position to deliver and to get orders for their workforces in their communities. Will she please consider that?
I commend the hon. Gentleman, and the people he represents in Barrow, for flying the flag and doing such an amazing job for such a vital British industry. He knows better than anyone else the importance of maintaining those skills. At this point, I think we will all put our shoulders to the wheel and do whatever we can to fly the flag for British exports. I would be delighted to work cross-party to do just that.
BAE Systems is a vital employer in my constituency. It maintains the Typhoon jets that fly from RAF Coningsby and many of my constituents commute to Brough in Humberside, where BAE Systems provides highly skilled careers and apprenticeships. Sadly, we have heard today that Brough is to lose 400 jobs. In that spirit, I very much hope the Government will work with BAE Systems to ensure opportunities for employees and apprentices at Brough. Can my hon. Friend confirm that the commitment to spend 2% of our budget on defence will continue, and that the Government will continue to support this great British company?
We will of course spend at least 2% of our national income on the defence budget. We will do all we can by working with the company and other players, in particular through the talent retention system. One crucial point, in response to the hon. Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith), is that we cannot lose these skills from the British workforce. They are vital and they have been acquired over many years. We have to ensure that they are maintained and that the productivity they generate is developed.
What are Her Majesty’s Government doing to sell the Type 31e frigate to the United States? The Secretary of State for Defence has mentioned that that is a possibility. Secondly, will the Minister urge the Secretary of State for International Trade to come to the Chamber to explain what exactly he is doing for BAE?
The hon. Gentleman will know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Trade is flying the flag relentlessly for all aspects of the British economy, including British ships. I am sure he would be delighted to answer a written question or a letter from the hon. Gentleman on that point.
I spoke to BAE this morning as soon as I heard the news. What support will the Department for Work and Pensions provide to those affected? Will the Government assure me that any support package includes Isle of Wight workers affected at the BAE Cowes plant in my constituency? May I also highlight the importance of the advanced radar programme on the Isle of Wight, both for UK defence and for island jobs?
The Department for Work and Pensions has a well tried, tested and effective rapid response deployment process to get in and talk to companies and people affected during the consultation process to make sure they are aware of any statutory rights and responsibilities, but also of any opportunities. I understand my hon. Friend’s point about the Isle of Wight and I will make sure it is reflected in any work going forward.
I am afraid the Minister really does not get it. When the French, the Americans or the Russians pursue a contract, they take a relentless whole-of-government approach. Incidentally, that is how it was under Prime Minister Tony Blair. On behalf of the industry and its skilled workforce, will the Government up their game and secure new contracts, especially with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states?
The right hon. Gentleman is brave to mention the former Prime Minister’s name. Of course this is a whole-of-government responsibility. [Interruption.] In other countries, leaders of the official Opposition do not stand up in public and criticise exactly the sort of defence deals we are trying to sign, or put at risk the renewal of technologies such as Trident, which are absolutely vital to our technology and knowledge base. I suggest he has a word with the Labour Front Bench and then perhaps we can have more of a conversation.
BAE’s huge contribution to skills, jobs and exports depends not least on cross-party political support for our exports to foreign Governments. Some on the Opposition Benches absolutely understand that, but the fact of the matter is that the Labour party leadership loses no opportunity to criticise what those of us in the Prime Minister’s trade envoy team are trying to do. Will the Minister confirm that although there will be job losses in some parts of BAE, there have been significant increases in other divisions, for example at least 350 new jobs in its cyber division?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to point out that this is a very dynamic business, which has to respond to globally changing conditions. It employs almost 36,000 people right across the UK. He is also absolutely right to point out other opportunities. It is absolutely critical that we back these British businesses, focus on export opportunities and work together. Many of us represent constituencies affected by these sorts of announcements and we all fly the flag for one the most successful companies in the world—BAE Systems. Let us get on and do it.
Our thoughts are with the workforce and their families who have received such devastating news. Let us be clear that the people who build and develop our military platforms are as vital to our national security and sovereign capability as those who operate them. We simply cannot afford to lose their skills. Will the Minister commit to developing a defence aerospace strategy, and to meeting immediately unions and employers across the sector to ensure we are not in this position again and can retain our sovereign capability?
Like me, I am sure the hon. Lady is very pleased that we now have an industrial strategy that focuses on these vital sectors, putting together sector deals working with unions, employers and government. The offer has been made to all sectors to come forward with deals. As I understand it, the aerospace sector deal is well advanced.
What actions is the Minister taking to ensure that all the young people who have started apprenticeships with BAE Systems and may be affected will be able to complete them, not only retaining the current skills we have but building the skills base for the future?
The hon. Lady is right to highlight the vital role of apprentices. I think we are all proud of the fact that we now have over 3 million apprenticeship starts. Until we know—this will become clear through the consultation process—the details of any redundancies and the types of jobs that are being laid off, it is too early to comment, but she raises a very important point and I will take it under consideration.
The job cuts at Warton and Samlesbury are twice what they were in November 2015, so it is not surprising that people in Blackpool and Fylde will be concerned. The supply chain has been mentioned. What specifically will the Minister and the Department do with buyers to ensure apprenticeships in supply chains are also supported, and that the Lancashire local enterprise partnership is given the support and resources it needs to support both BAE and the supply chain?
We stand by ready to understand any potential impact, once the scale of any job reductions is known, and to support the Lancashire local enterprise partnership and other companies in the area to process, cope and adapt to any changes.
I have constituents who are BAE employees and, even though they are perhaps not directly affected, I know that they will be nervous. May I press the Minister on Ministry of Defence procurement processes? Specifically, will the Department look at work that is currently going out to international competition? I think that that could be avoided and that the work could be held in the UK.
I refer to my earlier answer about the level of UK Government investment in Scotland, particularly in shipbuilding. We have to look at every procurement decision and understand whether it has the right capabilities for the sorts of conflicts that we ask our armed forces to undertake and what is best value for money for the taxpayer, so it will always be a mix. We should all be proud of the fact that the Government directly spend almost £4 billion a year with BAE Systems and about £18 billion a year with the British industrial sector.
The Minister will win no friends in east Yorkshire by saying that people who might be made redundant from BAE Systems can go and get jobs in the renewables industry at Siemens. We need both sets of jobs in both industries—both, not one—to flourish in our area. I am not convinced at all that the Minister is taking our sovereign capability seriously if these jobs go. That is important to our national security, so what will she do about protecting it?
The hon. Lady speaks passionately on behalf of her constituents. To put this in context, we are talking about a company that employs around 36,000 people right across the UK. It has to go through—as all companies do—a process to make itself as efficient and effective as possible so that the maximum number of productive jobs can be maintained. The level of engagement of the MOD and Secretaries of State is striking—getting on planes, signing the statement of intent with Qatar and pushing for the Saudi deal. This is what we need to do. She is right to say that we need both sorts of jobs. We need a vibrant, highly productive industrial sector that operates right across the UK, which is why she should welcome the industrial strategy and the work going on in the low-carbon economy.
I worked at the Unite trade union when this country was faced with the steel crisis. This Government had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, from a position where it would take no action to a position where it was willing to take a 25% stake in the industry. We are seeing the exact same thing again. If there was a serious industrial strategy, the Minister would take action and guarantee those jobs for the future of the industry.
I lead for the Government on the steel industry. Indeed, I am working with the steel sector on its sector deal right now. The steel sector is dependent on the opportunities that come from companies such as BAE Systems being able to invest and thrive in the UK economy. The hon. Gentleman should commit to work with the steel companies’ customers, as we want to do, to ensure that they can offer the maximum market for the products of the vital and critical steel industry.
It has been a bad week for the defence industry. These job losses come on top of rumours that the Government are scrapping the Royal Navy’s amphibious ship capability, and the threat to the Royal Marines. Does the Minister agree that the Government are presiding over emerging sovereign defence capability gaps, and do something about it?
I gently say that the hon. Gentleman should focus more on the facts and less on the rumours. We have committed to raising our national spending target to more than 2% of national income. We have undertaken strategic defence and security review programmes that have clearly set out a defence strategy for the future. We have invested in two decades-worth of shipbuilding contracts north of the border. I am always happy to discuss the facts. I suggest he puts down the muck sheets and focuses on the facts.
The Minister talks about seeing things in perspective, but the perspective is this: the loss of 750 jobs in Lancashire is absolutely devastating for individuals, families, communities and the industry itself. Will she not only work hard with BAE Systems to mitigate these losses, keep them to the lowest possible number and protect as many jobs as possible, but look to protect jobs in the supply chain in constituencies such as mine in Burnley, whose very success and existence relies on BAE Systems thriving?
As I said, we are keen to work closely with the company as it goes through this process. The offer is there for the hon. Lady and others who have important companies in their constituencies to work together, speaking to workers and the unions to ensure that we minimise the number of job losses and maximise skills retention both in this company and in the supply chain.
When I worked at BAE Systems, more than 1,700 of my colleagues across the British shipbuilding industry were made redundant in 2013. At the time, that was predicated on investment to create a world-class industry, but that investment is no longer happening. We see the same across these cuts. Every time it happens, a major plank of British industrial capability is lost, whether it is the ability to build tanks or carry out the final assembly of the F-35 aircraft. We cannot compete in shipbuilding internationally or in submarine manufacturing to the same extent that we could. Will the Government commit to reviewing how they finance capital infrastructure investment in defence and ensure that we are doing this in the best possible way?
The hon. Gentleman raises the point—I defer to his considerable knowledge of the company—that companies need to be competitive in order to thrive and export, and we are told that that is the reason for today’s announcement. But we are spending £60 billion over the next 10 years on shipbuilding in the UK. That is one of the biggest investments in shipbuilding that I can remember. We are doing what we need to do domestically but, equally, we need to support the export opportunities for these companies right across the world.
The latest announcement of the loss of 400 jobs in Brough will be devastating to communities such as Hull and East Riding. I am sorry, but the response so far reeks of complacency. It is not good enough to say that Siemens have created jobs in Hull so that workers from Brough can find jobs elsewhere. We want more jobs, not fewer. So here is a simple question for the Minister: will she choose to save jobs by bringing forward the order for Hawks for the Red Arrows, or will she choose to see 400 jobs go?
The hon. Lady should be incredibly proud of the fact that one of the highest rates of jobs creation has been in Yorkshire and the north-east. We have to support our industries, which we do through our procurement strategy and our support for exports. I was told that in the recent years to 2015, the county of Yorkshire created more jobs than the whole of France. We should be celebrating that success.
In order to be competitive, we have to retain the skills that it looks like we are going to lose, but things are going in the wrong direction. Has the Minister seen the estimates from Unite that suggest that 25% of our defence expenditure by 2020 will be in the United States alone? Are we not missing a defence industrial strategy that will stem that, so that we are paying people for skilled jobs, not to be unemployed?
I am happy to look at the sums, but I am sure that the hon. Gentleman understands that we have to ensure that we are buying the technology we need from the best places across the world when we are supporting our future defence capabilities. We are continuing to invest in and support this vital sector. He will be pleased to know that we are working closely with Unite and other unions where we are producing industrial strategy sector deals. The role and commitment of the workers that—particularly in the steel industry—has been vital in getting us to where we are cannot be underestimated. That is why the door is open for consultations and conversations with workers, the unions and colleagues from across the House.
Some 750 of these potential job losses are in Lancashire, which rightly worries many of my constituents who work there. The loss of these highly skilled and well-paid jobs will have a devastating impact on the Lancashire economy. Will the Minister tell us more about what conversations she is having with the local enterprise partnership in Lancashire, what resources and support we can have in the area, and what conversations she is having with the Department for Work and Pensions about the potential job losses and the devastating impact on my constituents?
We are right at the start of the process. Indeed, the company was not supposed to make the announcement until tomorrow, as I understand it. We want to have those conversations with the LEP and other employers with the aim of minimising the number of potential job reductions made by the company and maximising the redeployment of those people who have acquired such valuable skills over their time of work.
Those of us with constituents who work in the supply chain for BAE Systems, as well as those who have constituents directly employed by the company, are disappointed to hear the Minister’s statement because she talked about managing decline. The Opposition want to see proper investment in the skills we need and in defence industrial strategy so that we do not have to buy technologies from abroad. We need the Government to bring forward orders in order to protect jobs. They can do that now. Why is the Minister not doing that?
This is not about managing decline. We have a record number of people in work and have committed more than 2% of our national income to national defence. [Interruption.] And we have more than 2 million apprentices, I am told. The hon. Lady will understand that businesses and companies evolve and grow and invest in different technologies. The procurement of the F-35 fighter has brought forward jobs for BAE Systems. I appreciate her passion, but if she wants to stand on the platform of a party that wants to support exports in this vital sector, she needs to come across to the Government’s side of the House.
The Minister has made a great deal of what was said at the Labour party conference, but what impact will these job losses have on making this a country that works for everyone, and how will it help my constituents to live the British dream?
I commend the hon. Lady for doing her homework. As the company goes through its normal business processes, we all have to stand by ready to do whatever we can through the consultation process to ensure that the minimum number of people lose their jobs and the maximum number, with those vital skills, find other opportunities. The whole Government stand by ready to do that. Looking ahead, I call that maximising the British dream.