(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy if he will make a statement on the announcement by Vauxhall to move staff in Ellesmere Port from two production shifts to one in early 2018, resulting in 400 redundancies in the next few months.
Just over 53 years ago, the first Vauxhall Viva rolled off the production line at Ellesmere Port. Since then, seven generations of Astra have been built at the port. Most recently, the plant secured the contract for the mark 7, primarily based on the productivity and co-operation of the local workforce. That is why it is particularly disappointing to hear that Vauxhall is considering voluntary redundancies of up to 400 staff at the Ellesmere Port plant.
As we said last week, this is a concerning time for families, particularly in the run-up to Christmas. I assure the hon. Gentleman and other right hon. and hon. Members that, once again, the Government are standing by to do all we can to support those affected. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is continuing to speak with the company, the unions and the wider supply chain and the Department for Work and Pensions is standing by to provide advice and support to those affected.
I will address three points. First, I will set out what is actually happening to try to reassure people who may be affected by the announcement today. Secondly, I will give some background to what I understand are the reasons for it happening. Thirdly, I will put the announcement in the broader context of the automotive industry.
Today, I have spoken to the head and deputy head of Cheshire West and Chester Council, the chief executive of the local enterprise partnership, the general secretary of Unite the union and the chief executive of Vauxhall UK. The consensus view is that this is due to a downturn in the sale cycle, particularly that of the Astra model, and the company is working through questions about the plant’s overall competitiveness.
I am told that workers at the plant have been informed. The statutory consultation period will now take place and no final decisions will or should be taken until it has been completed. The company is hopeful that reductions can be managed on a voluntary basis, and we will continue to work closely with it on its planning.
I was pleased to hear today from the leader and deputy leader of the local council that a redundancy action support plan, which has been used before, will be put in place and will involve the LEP, the council and the Department for Work and Pensions all working together. Given that many of the people working in the plant travel across the border from Wales to their jobs every day, it is particularly important to note that the Welsh Government have been involved and stand by, ready to support any activities.
Given how many skilled workers may be affected by the announcement, we are particularly keen, as we discussed last week, to ensure that those skills are not lost to the industry. I have asked that the Government’s talent retention scheme be deployed, if appropriate, and both the company and Unite the union have agreed that that would be helpful and will agree to work with us. As I have said, I understand that this is a particularly troubling time and we are all absolutely concerned to minimise worries, particularly in the run-up to Christmas.
As I have said, I am told that this is happening because the C-segment class, in which the Astra vehicles sit, is not selling brilliantly across Europe and, in particular, the sales forecast for that model has not been as desired. Therefore, a decision has been taken to maintain the competitive position of the plant, and that announcement is being made today. The Secretary of State and I have consulted the company extensively on its future plans, both for the plant in Elsmere Port, particularly given its long and illustrious history, and for the company and its footprint in the UK.
That brings me to my third point about the broader context. As we have seen with many other companies, the technology in the auto sector is pivoting away from the traditional models, towards electric, potentially connected and autonomous vehicles. We are doing all we can to support manufacturers in that shift, and to position the UK as the leading place for those decisions and investments to be taken.
We have already delivered more than £500 million of public and private money through the Advanced Propulsion Centre. We will spend £1.25 billion of Government investment over the next five years to support that. The Faraday challenge is particularly important—we have invited all operators to contribute to it—and will help us ensure that we are the leaders in developing the electric battery technology of the future.
Of course, the auto industry has been an incredible success story. Thanks to the workers in the plants, we now have the highest productivity levels in Europe and sales of cars made in the UK are up 70% since 2009. It is a huge success story and we have generated many exports.
All of us in this House should think really hard about the message we are sending to those looking to invest in this industry in the UK—[Interruption]—and back the fact that we have highly productive plants and highly skilled workforces. Regardless of the changes that may happen in this sector, this is the place for auto companies to invest in the future. Perhaps Members who want to chunter otherwise should think about the messages we are sending to those investors.
Another important point—
Order. I am sure there are a lot of important points that could be made, but I gently say to the Minister that she has exceeded her allotted time by two and a half minutes. I think her other important point can either be neatly shoehorned into one of her, I hope, pithy replies, or it can be put in the Library, where in the long winter evenings that lie ahead colleagues will be free to consult the relevant material.
No, the hon. Lady has finished for now. We will hear from her again, probably before very long, but what I am trying gently to say to her is that was taking too long. I call Rebecca Pow—[Interruption.] Order. It is so long since the start of the ministerial reply that I had forgotten that we have not yet heard from the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders). We shall hear from him first.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, and I thank the Minister for her response.
This is deeply concerning news for those at the plant and for the automotive sector more widely. It will have a significant impact on the local economy. What action can the Minister take to ensure that there are no compulsory redundancies? As she said, the consensus is that the reason for this decision is changing consumer trends, but PSA has also given a very clear warning about the future. Nature abhors a vacuum, as does business. Industry is crying out for the clarity that it needs to invest in the future of this country, but all it sees coming out of Westminster is the squabbling, plotting and manoeuvring of Ministers in a Government completely paralysed by their own self-indulgent activities. If this news tells us anything, it is that business will not wait around while Ministers argue among themselves. I should make it clear that I do not include the Minister as one of those concerned more with their own future than with the country’s, but I ask her to say to her colleagues that the posturing and prevarication has to stop.
It has been made repeatedly clear that without clarity on future trading arrangements, the UK car industry remains vulnerable. What assurances can the Minister give to my constituents that their future matters to all in the Government? The plant union, Unite, has shown that it can work positively with management, but it cannot do it on its own. It needs backing across the board from the Government, and support in the Budget that is approaching. I hope that the Minister will confirm that she is making a very strong case to the Treasury for a much greater level of support in terms of reducing plant costs and expanding the local supply chain. To that end, will she seek to meet those at the highest level of PSA and other stakeholders, including trade unions and local MPs, so that we can discuss how this support can be delivered as an urgent priority?
These are not just my constituents; they are my friends and neighbours. When I go back home, I want to tell them that Parliament is united and determined to give them all the backing required, so that the redundancies announced today are the last.
That was commendably within time, and a good example to other colleagues on both sides of the House.
I absolutely assure the hon. Gentleman that we stand ready to work with him and his colleagues, the local LEP, the local council and anyone else, including the unions, to make sure that we have a good outcome and also an investment outcome for the future. As he will know, there is a huge amount of cross-party consensus on our industrial strategy and our clean growth strategy. The resulting confidence is shown by the fact that over the past few months we have seen some very significant investment news from auto industries in Sunderland, in Burnaston in the east midlands, and in Oxford. There is a vote of confidence: let us make sure that it continues.
Does the Minister agree that the UK automotive industry has in fact been a huge success story? Can she give assurances to PSA and others—I have companies in my constituency that make parts for cars, so this is very important to them, too—that this Government will provide, with their industrial strategy, a framework that ensures there is a major emphasis on the automotive industry as we go forward, particularly in the new technologies such as electric cars, other electric vehicles and battery storage, to mention just a few?
My hon. Friend makes a compelling case. It has indeed been a success story, but I suspect that is not much comfort for those people going home tonight and discussing this over the tea table with their families. That is why we want to make absolutely sure that this country is the place for long-term investment. We know that this has happened as a result of the sales cycle, which has been disappointing for this car. We want to make sure that longer-term investment decisions in Ellesmere Port and other parts of the industry are backed up and supported and that this is the place to keep doing business in the auto sector.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) for securing this urgent question.
As we know, Vauxhall has announced that 400 jobs are potentially to be lost at the Ellesmere Port plant, only a few months after being bought by PSA Group. The Opposition warned at the time that Vauxhall’s UK plants and the 40,000 people employed in the wider supply chain could be significantly at risk. In response, the Secretary of State said:
“The Prime Minister and I have been engaged in discussions…to ensure that the terms of the agreement can give confidence to Vauxhall’s UK workforce now and for the future.”—[Official Report, 7 March 2017; Vol. 622, c. 570.]
Can the Minister confirm whether those discussions have been ongoing, and if so, what was their outcome? What conversations has she had with Vauxhall regarding the decision to move to a single production shift? It has been reported in the media that
“PSA made clear that future investments in the plant were on hold until negotiations on the UK’s future with the European Union had become clearer.”
Can the Minister therefore confirm whether PSA has sought Nissan-style assurances from the Government’s Brexit strategy? That has been much debated and discussed in the press, but we have not had any confirmation. If that is the case, what were those assurances and when were they given? If it is not, can she explain why the Secretary of State stepped in to support Nissan and, reportedly, Toyota, but not Vauxhall? Does she accept that such a case-by-case approach is the very antithesis of an industrial strategy and that the Government’s shambolic handling of Brexit negotiations is, quite frankly, undermining British manufacturing and all who are reliant on it?
Finally, will the Minister confirm—I am not content with the responses we have had so far—that she will give PSA and other manufacturers a clear signal today that the Government are supporting the sector throughout the Brexit process, whatever the outcome may be?
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said at the time, and as has been said again, the company made a commitment to keep the plant open, both at the time of the acquisition and at subsequent points. We believe that the company stands by that.
The hon. Lady asked whether there is dialogue. There is ongoing dialogue, as I mentioned in my opening remarks, with the company—we had another conversation with it today about what exactly this means—with those in the broader area supporting the workers and with the unions. It is incredibly important that we are all joined up on this.
I entirely reject the idea that we do not have a joined-up strategy when it comes to the auto sector. We have turned around a sector that was on its knees in 2008-09. Under this Government, it has been turned into one of the country’s major investment and export stories, and we continue to invest for the future. As I have said, some models will do well and some will not. Companies need to know that this is the best place to invest for the future, so that the Ellesmere port plant can continue to be, as it was in 1964, a flagship manufacturing plant and so that we can retain high-skilled jobs in the UK and in the area.
The hon. Lady asked whether we are sending a clear signal. We continue to send a clear signal to this company and others that we will stand by them as the future evolves, to make sure that we are not left in the slow lane of technological innovation, but that we lead the world. We will reassure companies as much as possible about the certainty that we require from the Brexit negotiations—namely that, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have made incredibly clear, we should have the closest possible relationship with the single market.
Is my hon. Friend working together with the company and local government to ensure that the skills of those highly-skilled people who may, sadly, lose their jobs in the next few weeks and months will be retained in the area and built on? One thing that we learned from Germany in the late 2000s, during the great recession, is that if those skills are retained in the area, it will be possible to boost not only other companies but Vauxhall if it begins, as we all hope it will, to take on people again in the future to work on other models.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is vital that we maintain those skills. It is worth noting that there is a significant cluster of other businesses in the region, which is home to Bentley Motors, Jaguar Land Rover, Getrag Ford, Toyota’s engine plant and Leyland Trucks. It is really important that we continue to invest in those skills to minimise job losses and to ensure that the country does not lose the talent that people have built up over the years.
At the heart of this announcement, there are hundreds of families who are now worried about their futures. They will need more from the Government than warm words, so the Minister should ensure that they get the meaningful support that they need for their future.
Although the parent company has cited declining market share as a reason for its decision, it is also quoted as saying that it halted UK investment plans because of the Government’s lack of
“visibility on the future trading relationship with the EU”.
Figures show that direct foreign investment has vaporised in the UK. Instead of being given a level playing field —let alone the possibility of market advantage—business, workers and communities continue to be let down by this long and humiliating Brexit chaos. Will the Minister admit that to secure the future of jobs and investment, the only sensible option is to remain in the single market and the customs union?
As I have said, I do not think that anyone wants us to re-run the Brexit debate. We need to get on with this and make sure that the outcome—it represents the majority view in the constituencies that the majority of Government and Opposition Members represent, so we must deliver on it—is the best possible result for the workers of Ellesmere Port, the workers that support the industry and workers right across Britain’s industrial and manufacturing base.
We are exporting automobiles very successfully to the United States against a 10% tariff. How much better would we do with free trade?
My right hon. Friend invites me to comment on the estimates held by Her Majesty’s Treasury, but I can tell him that we are one of the major exporters of automobiles in Europe and around the world, and we need to maintain that. Indeed, we make and export one in five of the electric vehicles driven on the continent, so we are already pivoting towards that new technology. Let us make sure we get more investment, so that we can continue to employ more people in the future.
The Minister rightly praised the high levels of productivity and the skills of the workforce, and she mentioned—again, quite properly—the Government’s industrial strategy, but what sort of industrial strategy is it that takes no account of the changes that have taken place in our currency since the referendum and, more importantly, what account does it take of our deteriorating and chaotic future relationship with the European Union?
Focusing on today’s announcement, my understanding is that domestic sales of the Astra have been the problem, not sales in Europe. The supply chain to the auto industry—the steel sector—has of course done rather well from the currency move, which has benefited many people working in other areas. We need to focus not on the vagaries of long-term currency movements, but on the long-term support we collectively give to this industry and the investment the Government can make in the technology of the future.
The Minister may be aware that, when I was a councillor in the midlands a decade ago, we faced the challenges affecting Jaguar Land Rover at that time and the potentially dire warnings—[Interruption.] Well, we need only look at where it is today to deal with that heckle. What reassurance will the Minister give me that this company will be supported to move towards the sort of success that Jaguar Land Rover now enjoys, creating thousands of new jobs, despite the scepticism of Opposition Members?
I commend my hon. Friend for his experience. Again, there are frequent, regular and detailed calls about the company’s long-term strategy with regard to the UK and investment in this highly successful and very productive plant and in the people who work there. I also want to point out that the Ellesmere Port enterprise zone and the cluster of businesses around it has been incredibly successful.
The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but I am told by the head of the local enterprise partnership and the local council that it is, so perhaps he should consult a little more widely. I think that was a bit of low blow. This is about ensuring that we have the right support for the industry, that we have a thriving supply chain and that there are the best possible conditions for them to thrive and grow.
It did not take PSA long to renege on the assurances about investment that it gave the Secretary of State just a few months ago. Does the Minister accept that the workforce and the trade unions, over three successive new model rounds, have done everything that has been asked of them by the company and have achieved a level of performance that exceeded previous levels? May I suggest that sending in DWP officials is not the response that the Government should be making now? There should be a strong, robust response from her own Department, telling PSA, “It’s not on.”
I am happy to agree with the hon. Gentleman that there has been an incredible level of performance by the people working in the plant. Indeed, Tony Woodley, a long-term member of the union from this plant who sits on the Automotive Council, just cannot speak highly enough about what has been achieved. [Interruption.] I have met him, because I chair that forum. Indeed, I spoke to Len McCluskey only today to discuss this situation.
We have to understand that when sales of models do not pan out as projected, there will inevitably be adjustments to a company’s performance. We have to make sure that we put in place the long-term investment framework, give the company the assurances it needs to invest—as I have said, it has committed to keeping the plant open—and attract the next wave of technology to these shores, rather than see it go elsewhere.
To lose 400 of the 1,800 local jobs is devastating news for Ellesmere Port, but I am struggling to understand the reasons given by the plant’s French owner, PSA. The Government have said that the UK automotive sector is the most productive in Europe, with 50% higher productivity than overall UK manufacturing productivity, and that last year saw a 17-year high in the number of cars built in the UK, yet PSA has said:
“Current manufacturing costs at Ellesmere Port are significantly higher than those of the benchmark plants of the PSA Group in France.”
How can the Government’s statement be reconciled with the attitude of the French owners?
I have not looked in detail at the operation and fixed-cost production, but I suspect that if the plant is running below full capacity—as we know it is—because sales are weaker than planned, the cost per unit produced will be higher. That is why, before we have any further conversations with the company about the long-term prognosis, we need to be clear that while there may be blips in sales of particular models, we want PSA and other auto companies to keep their investment coming to the UK.
Eighty per cent. of the cars produced at Ellesmere Port are for mainland Europe and 75% of the parts to make the cars come from mainland Europe. What assurances can the Minister give that, when we leave the European Union, there will not be additional customs checks or barriers to trade, because if there are, more jobs will inevitably be lost, not just at Ellesmere Port, but elsewhere in the car sector and in manufacturing more widely?
The hon. Lady and I are in complete agreement about the need for a frictionless and close relationship with the single market. However, I think that we would both welcome the fact that, since 2011, the value of parts that UK manufacturers source from the UK supply chain has increased from 36% to 41%. Of course, one of the opportunities for manufacturers is thinking about onshoring production that they would currently buy overseas. The hon. Lady and I want the best long-term outcome, but the Government want to make it clear that the supply chain is as supported as possible for the future, through the Brexit negotiations and beyond.
Will the Minister reassure me that unfair or inconsistent application of the state aid rules is not putting British car manufacturing at a competitive disadvantage?
I am happy to give those assurances. Everything we have to do needs to be put through the prism of state aid rules. We were one of the great proponents of a level playing field. We have always played by the state aid rules in a way that other countries perhaps do not. Everything that we do has to meet those tests. It does that and will continue to do so.
When I negotiated in Government alongside the trade unions in the discussions with General Motors to save and then expand the plant, it was clear that the whole business model for Vauxhall car production—and van production at Luton—depended on the common standards in the single market and the common tariff in the customs union. Since the Minister cannot guarantee either, what equivalent measures will she put in place?
The right hon. Gentleman knows that that is absolutely part of the negotiations, but we are considering one of more successful and vital industries, and the voices of those in the sector are heard loud and clear in my ears and those of the Secretary of State, and very publicly. If we want to protect the jobs and get the investment that means our children and our grandchildren will work in those plants, we must secure the best possible deal for UK car manufacturers and the UK economy.
The Minister said earlier that the Government were standing by to help. She is correct: her predecessors in the job certainly stood by. When we asked for help with business rates and when colleagues across the House asked for help with energy costs, they stood by. For the good of all my constituents who work in the supply chain and directly for Vauxhall, will the Minister do a little better and commit to membership of the single market and customs union, which will keep them in their jobs?
I admire the hon. Lady for speaking so passionately for her constituents, many of whom commute daily to work in the plant. She is more than welcome to come to any of the conversations we have with the auto industry about long-term investment here. We need to secure investment for the future because the whole automotive world is changing and pivoting away from diesel and petrol towards different forms of technology. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) talks about pivoting, but I am afraid that that is the way the world is going and I am determined that Britain will be at the forefront so that we can capture investment for the future.
Of course, the plant has reduced numbers previously, and then built up again. I gently point out that when it comes to practical help for those who might be affected and for whom this is clearly a worrying time, the LEP, the local council, the Department for Work and Pensions and Unite are ensuring that support is there and that people can find work quickly, if that is what they desire. There is also the talent retention scheme. We do not want to lose the skills that have been built up over the past 50 years for the industry and the country. It is vital that we work together to save those.
Over 450 of the people who work at Ellesmere Port live on the Welsh side of the border, only 12 miles away. I am pleased that the Minister has said that she is meeting with the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure in Wales, Ken Skates, to discuss that. Will she give a commitment today to ensure that he is involved in discussions about the three big issues, which are cost, the performance in Europe and the clarity that the company seeks from the Government about future membership of the single market and a tariff-free economy?
The devolved Administrations are of course rightly involved in all those conversations. I was heartened today to hear the head of Cheshire West and Chester Council say that they were working closely across the border, because they understand that so many people working in the plant commute across the border every day. It is interesting that that is perceived as the economic area, which crosses the border. It is absolutely right that we should not let artificial boundaries get in the way. On the issue of artificial boundaries, all of us in this House want a thriving automotive industry. As we have done with other strategic decisions, the more that we are all on the front foot on this together—showing that we are the place for future investment, rather than taking lumps out of each other across the Dispatch Box—the better.
I would remind the hon. Lady that we are substantial net importers of motor products from the EU and especially of high-value-added components in the supply chain. Now that we are leaving the EU, will the Minister and the Government look to using state aid and public procurement programmes to benefit British motor manufacturing and Vauxhall in particular?
I pay tribute to the many people who I am sure live in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency who work in the other major Vauxhall plant and who I know are as committed and productive as those in Ellesmere Port. He is absolutely right, and this is why we have to have the negotiation and why we have to come up with a good deal and ensure as seamless a relationship across borders as possible. He will know that 65% of the Luton plant’s production is exported to the EU. We want to make sure that continues.
Ah! A sisterly contest. I call Maria Eagle.
Thank you, Mr Speaker; it is not helpful to call it a contest.
The Minister keeps saying that she wants frictionless access to the single market, but most of her colleagues in Government, in particular many in the Cabinet, are talking up the idea of leaving with no deal and walking out of the single market and the customs union. Given that the Ellesmere Port plant is weakened by going to a single shift and by losing skilled workers, as is inevitable, does she not understand that the general uncertainty caused by the lack of progress in the Brexit negotiations puts the plant at even greater risk in future of being fully and totally closed?
I am not sure who the winner was in that contest, but the hon. Lady is absolutely right. She should not listen to the noises off, which people seem to be obsessed by, that are reported to come out of the Cabinet. There is an absolutely obvious view that we have to get a deal. We will get a deal that works for the UK and for businesses such as this in the UK, and we will have the opportunity over the next few days and weeks in the debate on the repeal Bill to show that we are unified on this and want to stand up for the businesses and those they employ in our constituencies.
I have constituents who will be losing their jobs as a result of these extremely worrying announcements. The Minister has said that the Government are standing ready to help, but the future of the plant would certainly be enhanced if the plant were a front runner for a new model. What are the Government doing to ensure that it is?
That is absolutely part of the conversation. I understand from listening to the general secretary of the union today and from talking to the company that decisions about the new model have to be taken in the next few years. It is incumbent on us all, therefore, to make sure that this is perceived as the best place to build that model. That is how to protect, preserve and enhance the jobs and productivity of the plant.
I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Many in my constituency will be devastated by the news of the threatened job losses at Vauxhall’s Ellesmere Port plant. In the Secretary of State’s statement on Nissan in Sunderland on 31 October last year, he said that the Government pledged to work vigorously with the car industry to ensure that more businesses and supply chains could locate in close proximity to major manufacturing sites by upgrading sites and providing infrastructure. There is huge scope for that around the Ellesmere Port plant. He also indicated that in the EU negotiations the Government would work to ensure that trade between us and the EU
“can be free and unencumbered by impediments.”—[Official Report, 31 October 2016; Vol. 616, c. 680.]
What progress can the Minister report on those two commitments?
If the Secretary of State were at the Dispatch Box, he would stand by all those comments. The hon. Lady is right. The chief executive of the LEP was at pains to point out the opportunities available from working together within the enterprise zone at Ellesmere Port in terms of reducing energy costs, which I know the hon. Lady cares about, and enhancing the business environment. She is right, therefore, that local solutions can help with this problem. Fundamentally, however, we stand by, we want to support the company and the industry and we want to make sure that these investment decisions are made as quickly as possible.
I put it to the Minister, though, that she is still glossing over the broader context, particularly given that the chief executive of PSA has himself said that a key consideration in the long-term future of Ellesmere Port is “visibility” of the UK’s future trading relationship with the EU. Is that uncertainty not also filtering through to the car market in the UK, where new car registrations were down 9.3% in October and the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders has said that economic and political uncertainty is a key consideration? Will she not accept what she has been told time and again—that ambiguous and contradictory messages from the Government about Britain’s future as regards the Brexit negotiations are making a bad situation still worse?
I accept that ambiguity is bad for investment—that applies right across the sectors—and that is why we need a deal as soon as possible. I point out, however, as I did at the start, that when this company, and indeed all these European companies, look across their manufacturing bases, they will see that British workers in these plants are the most productive in Europe. In the last 15 years, we have seen major investment in the industry, which is delivering both current and new models. It would be incredible if companies did not want to invest on that basis.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) said, the company’s statement makes it clear that uncertainty over our future relations with EU is jeopardising future investment in the plant. The Minister is a reasonable person—she was one of a small band of brave Conservatives to rebel during the article 50 process—so I ask her to acknowledge that the Government’s boneheaded determination to leave the single market and customs union is already costing jobs, livelihoods and prosperity up and down Britain.
Just to clarify, the company’s statement about this change relates to sales of the model, which are not reaching its forecast potential, but that is something that, with the best will in the world, can always happen if a company gets the design or marketing wrong. The House has to work together to deliver the best possible deal for the country in the EU negotiations, and that is what the Prime Minister and the Cabinet are doing—[Interruption.] I have avoided making any political points in this statement, but it would be nice to hear just one position from Labour that its Members felt they could get behind for longer than 24 hours.
It is another week in Parliament, another set of job losses in the north and another Minister being forced to come to the House to explain what the Government are doing. What has happened to the Government’s northern powerhouse strategy?
I remind the hon. Lady that urgent questions are always tabled about job losses, but I do not recall ever answering one about job announcements. We have the lowest level of unemployment in the country for 40 years and the highest level of employment among women and young people. It is a fact that overall the UK economy has been a huge jobs-creating success in the last eight years. However, there will always be bumps, concerns that come along, particularly for people who are worried. In the run-up to Christmas, this is a very worrying time. That is why I do not have to be forced to come to the Chamber; I am very happy to come here and try to reassure Members on both sides of the House and the constituents whom they represent.
The Minister spoke about the widespread consultations and the need to send the right messages. Given the importance of the European single market to the motor industry—productivity and exports—what conversations is she having with Cabinet Ministers and Conservative Back Benchers? They are prepared to leave the European Union irrespective of our commitment to the single market. What messages does she think that that is sending to would-be investors in this crucial industry?
I assure the hon. Gentleman that both my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I hear the messages loud and clear from the auto sector and, indeed, from the business community as a whole—from businesses large and small. My right hon. Friend is assiduous in ensuring that the voice of business is considered in every aspect of the EU negotiations. That is what we have been doing. We continue to work on the best possible deal for Britain, and we will get behind it.
Last week it was Monarch, headquartered in my constituency. This week it is Vauxhall, headquartered in my constituency. Yet the Minister did not once use the word “Brexit” during her statement. Does she believe that these redundancies are being caused primarily by a lack of consumer confidence stemming from the Government’s chaotic approach to Brexit negotiations, or by a lack of investor confidence stemming from the Government’s lack of competence and leadership on Brexit?
I was not at the Dispatch Box to answer questions about Monarch, but I understood that it was a very troubled company that was burdened with debt, and other airlines have reported record passenger numbers over the summer. The statement that we made last week about BAE Systems concerned the delay in landing some important overseas orders, and I hope that the House recognised how committed the Department was to ensuring that those orders were delivered.
Let me say again that this is not about Brexit. It is about a lack of sales of a model that is sold both in the United Kingdom and in Europe, which is having a near-term impact on the shift pattern at this port.
Thank you for calling me, Chair. Let me begin by saying that I feel very much for the people and families who are affected by this announcement.
Earlier in the year, the Prime Minister sought reassurances about safeguarding jobs. Clearly that was all a bit “peace in our time”. This is not actually about petrol, diesel, electric or C-segment; otherwise, why has the plant in Gliwice, in Poland, not been affected by similar closures? Carlos Tavares, the PSA chief executive, has said that it is hard to decide on the group’s strategy owing to a lack of clarity over the UK’s plans to leave the European Union. The jobs—
Order. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman quite understands. In these situations, what is needed is a short question, and the Chair—as the hon. Gentleman generously described me—needs evidence that a question mark will appear before long. It is not an occasion for a series of observations; it is a question to the Minister.
Thank you for clarifying that, Chair. [Laughter.] Sorry—Mr Speaker.
May I suggest that the Minister speak to Professor David Bailey of Aston university, and find out more about the impact on the components business, which underlies the reason for seeking to reduce the number of jobs in the UK? It is about the supply chain and Brexit; it is not about the C-segment.
Let me reassure the hon. Gentleman. I chair the Automotive Council for the Government. The council brings together vital representatives of the manufacturing companies that are based here and of the supply chain, as well as technology leaders and union representatives. I spend a great deal of time talking to representatives of the industry about what is affecting their businesses. This is exceptionally disappointing for all the families who may be having conversations over the tea table tonight, but it is due to a failure to deliver on the sales projections for the Astra. It is our collective job to ensure that the industry has confidence in the UK when it comes to investment in the future.
As chair of the all-party regional group covering this area and former chair of the Automotive Council, I recently attended a Toyota event celebrating 25 years of production at the nearby Deeside plant, and the message coming from the automotive sector in connection with all different types of production is that the lack of clarity from the Cabinet and Government on this issue is undermining the sector. That is the clear message from the industry, and this Government need to get themselves in order. Will the Minister speak to the Cabinet to ensure that the united line she is talking about is conveyed to them?
Forgive me, but the hon. Gentleman may be a bit behind on his facts. In March of this year Toyota announced a quarter of a billion pounds of new investment to upgrade its Burnaston plant in the east midlands. In July BMW announced that it will be producing the electric Mini here. These actions and investments are safeguarding thousands of jobs in our constituencies, and we should all be proud of that.
Foreign direct investment has fallen from a £120 billion surplus before the referendum to a £25 billion deficit after. Vauxhall is of course part of that figure. Does the Minister still think this is nothing to do with the disastrous Brexit negotiations?
At some point we have to accept that we have to get through these negotiations, that the best way to do that is to show a unified face to Europe, and that the most important thing to do is secure the millions of jobs and the billions of pounds of investment we need to continue to grow. Frankly, it is a bit rich for the hon. Gentleman to be trying to make the case for the Government being divided on Brexit when his own Front Bench does not have a clue what its Brexit position is today, let alone yesterday.
The future of Vauxhall and every other motor manufacturer in this country depends on gaining the next model. What message does the Minister think her chaotic Brexit policy is sending to the people in the parent companies who are making those investment decisions today?
My strong suspicion is that all auto companies are thinking about the future models being partially or fully electric, and about how they might introduce self or autonomous driving capabilities. This Government have sent some pretty clear signals that we think that is the way we should go, partly for all the air quality benefits that brings. I think the hon. Gentleman should be celebrating the fact that this Government have committed a quarter of a billion pounds to the Faraday challenge, to get the next generation of electric vehicle technology together, and over half a billion pounds from the public and private sectors to make sure we lead the world in connected and autonomous vehicles. That is the future of the models in this country. The manufacturers understand that, and we need to get the investment to ensure that the jobs we are talking about today are protected.
I urge the Minister to redouble her efforts to support staff. PSA flagged up concerns over the competitiveness of this plant. Can the Minister explain how the competitiveness of this and other UK car plants, which rely so heavily on just-in-time production, will be maintained, let alone enhanced, post-Brexit, once more burdensome customs rules kick in, risking turning just-in-time production into never-on-time production?
The right hon. Gentleman will have heard me say several times during this urgent question that that is exactly why we need to make sure we have the minimal amount of friction in terms of the supply chain. Indeed, the UK percentage of the supply chain is rising, which can only be helpful as it is much better for logistics. We should all pay tribute to something the right hon. Gentleman referenced: the incredible productivity and skill level built up by the people working in this plant, which we should all be focused on, and which is why Britain continues to be the best place for automotive investment. We have wonderful workers in this and other plants, and we want to be investing to support them in the future.