This is a concerning time for workers at the JLR factory and in the wider supply chain, particularly the 1,000 or so temporary workers involved, but I can assure the House that I speak to the company regularly; in fact, I met JLR’s managing director Jeremy Hicks on 17 April, the day after the announcement. The Government, including my Department and the Department for Work and Pensions, are ready to support those affected, and it is important to recognise that, despite this announcement, the UK automotive industry remains a great success story, in particular JLR.
I have not met with the unions specifically on these job losses, because they have not asked for a meeting. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady asks why, but I would be delighted to meet them. I hope Members on both sides of the House realise that my door is always open to trade unions—the steel industry in particular would accept that—and I am pleased to meet anyone the hon. Lady suggests, with her, to discuss the automotive industry.
As usual, my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) makes a good point—although, unusually, on this occasion he did not mention the John Lewis Partnership. Our Faraday battery challenge, which he indirectly refers to, will ensure that this country is at the forefront of battery technology, and JLR and other companies are firmly behind it.
The hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) applied a self-denying ordinance, which is not a common feature of our proceedings, but colleagues will have noticed that there is a lot of chuntering from a sedentary position from the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) about castles and the importance of being plugged in. He should fear not; we have not forgotten him, and nor will we.
I have a lot of respect for the hon. Gentleman, but in this case he is ignoring the fact that my Department and the Department for Transport speak regularly with all the car manufacturers about the evolution from diesel and the internal combustion engine to what will be a brilliant industry for Jaguar Land Rover and all the other companies, involving the eventual production, by 2040, of pollution-free cars.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. All the recent decisions on new contracts by manufacturers in Europe have gone to British firms. This is most recently typified by the announcement by Toyota, near Derby, of its investment in a new model, and I am confident that this will continue. The automobile industry is doing very well. It is investing hundreds of millions of pounds in new products to be produced in UK factories.
Last year, the Treasury announced a £400 million public-private sector fund to develop charging infrastructure for plug-in cars. This is vital for the development and growth of that market. To date, however, no one has even been appointed to manage that fund. Will the Minister tell me when the fund will be operational?
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the money is already spent. It is our intention to launch a request for proposals to secure a fund manager this summer. Further details will be included in the Department for Transport’s forthcoming zero-emissions road transport strategy.
Following figures showing that car registrations plunged in March by 15.7% compared with 2017, Jaguar Land Rover announced that 1,000 jobs would be cut at Solihull and that it was temporarily reducing production at Halewood. Sadly, reports suggest that the Solihull workers were told this news at a mass meeting that lasted only 10 minutes, with no opportunity to ask questions. We have heard some hints from Members today, but will the Minister tell us whether he has made any assessment of the causes and the potential knock-on effect on jobs in the supply chain? What steps is he taking to support workers and to reverse this worrying trend in the whole automotive sector?
The hon. Lady will know that JLR has been clear that this restructuring is part of the cyclical nature of automobile production. It is very confident about this country; it is employing a lot of apprentices and skilled people and training up its workforce to take part in the next phase of automobile expansion.
I am not sure that that has actually answered my question. Automotive is not the only sector in crisis. This year alone in retail, Toys R Us has collapsed, Maplin has gone into administration, New Look has announced job losses, Carpetright is planning a company voluntary arrangement and retail profit warnings across the UK have hit a seven-year high. The chief executive officer of The Entertainer has stated:
“The Government just haven’t got it. They need to take some responsibility for the high street’s decline.”
Can the Minister explain why Government action in this sector—from woeful action on business rates and income stagnation and under-investment in retail innovation—has been so lacklustre, and what urgent action he is taking to help a sector that is currently in crisis?
The hon. Lady will be aware that the same thing is happening in the retail sector all over the world. I would be very pleased—on another occasion—to find out whether there are any exceptions. The Government have taken action. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy—who is the Minister for retail, among many other things—launched the Retail Sector Council recently. A lot of thought is going into this, to change retail into a modern, leisure-driven shopping choice.