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McVitie’s Tollcross Factory

Volume 697: debated on Tuesday 22 June 2021

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Scott Mann.)

It has been several weeks since we learned of the proposal put forward by Pladis, the company behind the McVitie’s biscuit brand, to close its long-standing factory in my Glasgow East constituency. In that time, I have raised the matter at every opportunity, both outside and on the Floor of the House. This evening’s debate, however, gives me much more time to expand on the situation and I want to take this opportunity to thank Mr Speaker for very graciously allowing me to hold this Adjournment debate. As you can probably understand, Mr Deputy Speaker, I am currently battling laryngitis, but nothing and no one would hold me back from being in the House to represent my constituents tonight. That said, should my voice give way, I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) might want to make the points on my behalf, but let us hope it does not come to that.

Before I begin my speech, I wish to remember Andy Millar, a long-serving employee at the McVitie’s factory in Tollcross who recently died. Andy had worked at the factory for 37 years—his entire adult working life. His dedication and loyalty to McVitie’s was undeniable, and I want to extend my heartfelt condolences to his family, friends and colleagues. I also want to thank the Minister for taking the time to listen to what I have to say this evening, because this is not just a factory closure—not for me, not for the workers at the factory, nor for my constituents. I will come on to talk more about the history of the Tollcross site, but suffice it to say that having been in operation for almost a century, McVitie’s is firmly embedded in the DNA of the east end of Glasgow.

I recently attended the socially distanced rally in Tollcross Park which was organised by the GMB trade union, where hundreds of McVitie’s employees and their families had gathered to protest against the closure of the factory. One image that stuck in my head was of a young girl holding a handmade sign that read, “Save our mums and dads jobs.” I want to provide the Minister with some context here. For many kids in the area, their household income either comes largely or completely from the factory. I know from speaking with factory staff that there are a large number of households where either the sole breadwinner or both parents work at the factory, and in many instances there will be a huge impact on the extended family network. Employment at the factory is intergenerational and there were kids at that protest who will not only have parents, but aunts, uncles and grandparents all working there simultaneously. That is the crux of the issue.

It is no exaggeration when I say that the closure of the Tollcross McVitie’s factory would be devastating for the local community. I have said before in this Chamber that the closure would be the equivalent of economic Armageddon for the east end, and I truly mean that. With a shared history as rich and vibrant as that of McVitie’s at Tollcross, it would be impossible for the company to turn its back with no consequences.

McVitie’s has become synonymous with Scotland. The UK’s biggest biscuit brand has had a presence in Scotland since 1830, born out of a bakery in Rose Street in Edinburgh. The factory in Tollcross was built almost 100 years later and has operated continually to the present day. I have visited the factory many times. It is a building with an incredible amount of history, which is shared and recounted by the proud workforce. I have lost count of the number of people who have told me colourful stories of their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents who have worked there. Those generations of families in the east end of Glasgow helped to propel the McVitie’s brand to its contemporary dominance over the domestic biscuit market. A huge part of that success, and the reason why McVitie’s outsells the next seven biggest biscuit brands combined, is because the business is very much a family business. This proposal, however, changes all of that.

The McVitie’s brand stands on the shoulders of its dedicated Tollcross workforce—generations of families past and present—and today’s workforce does not deserve to be abandoned. I do not use that word lightly, but that is exactly what Pladis would be doing: abandoning its loyal employees. Over the past 15 months, the world has been turned upside down, yet throughout the pandemic the Tollcross factory workers continued to serve McVitie’s diligently as key workers. While millions of others worked safely from home, they come into work day in, day out, to keep the UK fed. How are those Tollcross factory employees being rewarded for being key workers during the pandemic and contributing to a “bumper” sales year for McVitie’s? They are being rewarded with the threat of closure and redundancies.

I have already made my feelings abundantly clear to David Murray, the managing director of Pladis UK and Ireland, about how the staff have been treated, but to say that it is a complete kick in the teeth is a huge understatement. The dedication of the workforce at Tollcross helped McVitie’s towards its record high sales throughout 2020, but their dedication has been met with cold and callous thanklessness.

In Pladis’s annual biscuit review, it outlines its successes during 2020. The report highlights that Britain’s biscuit market grew by 7.2% last year, equivalent to an extra £212 million in sales. UK biscuit retail sales were worth £2.96 billion in 2020, and they were bought by 99.5% of all UK households. By way of rationale for the proposed closure, Pladis insists that the UK biscuit market is “mature”, yet in the report Scott Snell, vice-president of customer at Pladis, states:

“as the number one biscuit supplier, since almost a quarter of biscuits purchased (24.6%) are pladis brands, we believe there is yet more growth to be tapped into.”

I therefore do not believe that the rhetoric is matched by reality. The stated reasoning behind axing 468 jobs and the complete abandonment of Scotland is weak to say the least. I can see that, the trade unions can see that and, most importantly, the workers at the Tollcross factory can see that. That is why we are not giving in without a fight.

The local community, employees at the factory, trade unions, local elected representatives, Clyde Gateway, Scottish Enterprise, Glasgow City Council and the Scottish Government have rallied to the cause and are working hard to prevent the closure. I also want to put party and constitutional politics aside and place on record my thanks to the UK Government for working with me and playing their part in the efforts to keep the factory in the east end of Glasgow. Whether it is the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the Scotland Office—I see the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart), on the Treasury Bench tonight—or the Prime Minister himself, I have found a genuine willingness to work constructively together across traditional party and constitutional lines to save these jobs in my constituency. The campaign, though, is fundamentally a grassroots one. A petition organised by workers at the factory is currently sitting at more than 64,100 signatures, and, at this juncture, I wish to pay tribute to Paul Smith who works at the factory.

In addition, on behalf of my Glasgow East constituents, I presented a petition in this Chamber in which I outlined their concerns and the public opposition to the proposed closure. Hundreds of factory workers and their families attended a rally protesting against the factory closure. It was organised by GMB, which has also been working incredibly hard to protect local jobs, as has Unite the Union.

Glasgow City Council passed an emergency motion, which was brought forward by my SNP colleague and Shettleston ward councillor, Laura Doherty. The unanimous passing of this motion gave the full support of all party groups to the leader of the council to take all appropriate steps to assist in preventing the loss of these jobs, and to explore ways to secure a sustainable future for the site.

That motion also allowed for the formation of an action group, chaired by the Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy, Kate Forbes, and Councillor Aitken. The group has brought together representatives, officials, trade union representatives and stakeholders to encourage an open dialogue with Pladis ultimately to try to find a solution—any solution—to keep the Tollcross factory open.

Despite this enormous collective effort, last Friday, Pladis officially issued its HR1 notice signalling advance notification of potential redundancies. The 45-day consultation process began on Friday, and, over the weekend, the worst fears of hundreds of families became a reality. At this juncture, may I say that my thoughts are very much with the families and the factory workers who now face an incredibly uncertain time? Far too often, even in this House, we lose sight of the fact that people are worrying about how they will pay their car loan, how they will pay their rent and how they will pay their mortgage. I do not believe that the factory closure is a foregone conclusion, and I will continue to work around the clock to play my part in finding a solution.

I know that David Murray and other senior Pladis executives will be watching this debate intently this evening. Indeed, they spend an absolute fortune on public relations and spin, so, as a result, all the lobbyists will be watching this debate. On behalf of the trade unions and the staff at the factory, I want to say this directly to David Murray and Salmin Amin: “The proposal to close the factory cannot go ahead. It would completely devastate the local area and create an economic scar that would remain for many, many years to come.”

My message to David Murray is clear: “Your staff do not deserve to be treated with contempt. They have been instrumental in your success. Their parents and their grandparents built your business. And, yes, to you, this is business, but to us this is deeply personal. The McVitie’s brand is cherished because of its history, not in spite of it. McVitie’s is as much a part of the east end of Glasgow as we are a part of it. Please work with us. Please engage with the action group. Listen to the reasonable propositions being put forward. Have the good sense to change course and to continue our mutual success.”

There is a genuine and collective will to prevent the factory being shuttered and to protect local jobs. I will continue to play my part and I look forward to the Minister’s response this evening.

I congratulate Mr Linden who is battling laryngitis on completing the speech. His voice was heard loud and clear. Whether that is down to the biscuits, something in the whisky or something in the water, I do not know.

I add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) on securing and indeed completing today’s important debate. I had feared that we were going to have one of Parliament’s longest ever interventions by the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) should that not have been the case. As Mr Deputy Speaker has said, we are here to be the voice of our constituents and I am glad that the hon. Gentleman’s voice is being heard at full volume here today, as he brings this really important issue to the attention of the House.

I also pay tribute to Kate Forbes, the Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy, for all the work that she is doing with Susan Aitken, the leader of Glasgow City Council, the unions and other agencies to secure a positive outcome for the site and its 468 employees, and I know that their message will be heard loud and clear today.

I, too, join the hon. Gentleman in remembering Andy Millar. I pay my sincere condolences to his family, friends and colleagues. This is such a reminder of the human nature of these issues. These decisions are not just about spreadsheets; there is a human cost. It is so, so important that we remember what is at stake here. Unfortunately, the stakes are incredibly high and I pay tribute to Andy Millar.

The employees and their families are central to the debate and we must continue to focus our efforts on them to secure a positive future. As we have heard, it is the employees who have made the McVitie’s brand so successful. Some belong to families who have worked at Tollcross for generations, and they should rightly be proud to be part of the century-long history of making the famous biscuits that have been household names in Britain for decades and are enjoyed by people all over the world. The petition that the hon. Gentleman referred to, which has attracted more than 54,000 signatures, demonstrates that that is a widely held view.

I therefore pay tribute to the workers who have continued to work through the pandemic, like many other factory workers, to ensure that the nation can continue to enjoy its favourite products. I sympathise with all those who will be affected by the company’s decision to close the Tollcross site factory, which is so important to the local community and the wider local economy. I say to them that we will do all we can, working with the Scottish Government, to ensure that they can access the support that they need.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that, although we are disappointed that pladis has taken this decision and issued the redundancy notices, it is a commercial decision for the company. Although the Government have no role in the strategic direction or management of private companies, we stand ready to support anyone affected by the redundancies.

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way; I had not given him an indication that I would intervene. May I ask what the Government have done thus far? I take him at his word on his sincerity on the issue, but when I secured a debate on the hundreds of jobs that were going to go at Rolls-Royce at Inchinnan, the then Minister—the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi)—essentially said that the workers should be grateful that they had been offered voluntary redundancy. Can the present Minister tell us, and particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) and the workers at Tollcross, what the Government are actually doing about it?

Yes, I will outline a few of the issues that my colleagues at the Department for Work and Pensions will be standing up as a result. I do recognise that this is a worrying time for those Pladis employees. We will do all we can to support each of the workers affected, including through the Department for Work and Pensions, Jobcentre Plus and the support that they can access through Partnership Action for Continuing Employment in Scotland. People will also be able to access redundancy help and job search advice through the Department for Work and Pensions’ website.

There is also information on and updated information packs provided to employers to help them to signpost employees to the support that is available. That support includes connecting people to jobs in the local labour market; help with job searches, including CV writing, interview skills, where to find jobs and how to apply for them; and help to identify transferable skills and skills gaps linked to the local labour market, along with advice on what benefits they may get and how to claim. Additionally, the Government’s plan for jobs is helping to support businesses to recover from the pandemic and create more jobs, with measures such as VAT cuts, business rates relief and cash grants for the sectors most affected.

By virtue of shadowing it, I take as much interest as anybody in this House in the role of the Department for Work and Pensions, but as I have discussed with the Under-Secretary of State, there is another Department in this Government that has a crucial role to play: the Foreign Office. Pladis is, of course, a Turkish-owned company. Will the Minister give a commitment at the Dispatch Box that every single bit of machinery in the UK Government, including in Her Majesty’s Foreign Office, will be engaged to try to put as much pressure as possible on the Turkish owner, Salman Amin, to ensure that Pladis does not take a decision that would lead to work for the Department for Work and Pensions? Instead, will the Government use the global Britain brand? I am not, perhaps, as much a fan of it as the Minister, but if the global Britain brand is to be taken at its word, will that pressure be brought to bear on Salman Amin in Turkey?

It is frustrating, because it is clearly a commercial decision for Pladis, but we want to make sure that we work with Pladis and other companies to keep and increase investment within the UK and show them the opportunities. Indeed, should the factory end up closing, perhaps it might be repurposed for other areas of productive work that could re-engage the workforce. These are conversations that I am sure will continue in partnership with the Scottish Government, the hon. Gentleman, unions and other agencies in the local area.

Let me turn to a slightly wider point. I know how important manufacturing is to the local area, to Scotland and to the whole of Britain. As the largest of the manufacturing sectors, food and beverage manufacturing contributed £31 billion of gross value added to the UK economy in 2019 and directly employed more than 450,000 people across every region of the UK. It provided £4.8 billion to Scotland’s economy in 2019. The importance of manufacturing to Scotland’s industrial history is well known, and today Scotland has a high-tech, high-value offer in other areas as well, including leading sectors such as space, aerospace, defence, and marine and life sciences.

Manufacturing is so often the economic anchor in local communities, providing good jobs, and the Tollcross site is no exception, so we must work together to ensure that Glasgow and other local areas in Scotland continue to provide an attractive offer to manufacturing firms and to all investors, both domestic and foreign-owned. That is how we will ensure the future of the 190,000 manufacturing jobs in Scotland and the 2.7 million across the UK.

We will continue to support UK manufacturing capability in its transition to net zero through significant investment in research, development and innovation, so that it is globally competitive and can continue to provide the products demanded across the world and the jobs that are so important to local communities. The Prime Minister’s 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution mobilises more than £12 billion to create more than 250,000 high-skilled jobs across the UK.

Scotland and other industrial heartlands are central to this blueprint for building industries of the future and decarbonising existing ones. Scotland’s clean energy and high-tech manufacturing capability, together with Glasgow’s aspirations to be a net zero city, have made it the obvious place to host COP26 later this year. That is going to showcase the city’s sustainable industrial credentials. The offshore wind manufacturing investment fund will have particularly strong benefits in Scotland and, due to geographical factors, we expect much of the UK’s future floating wind deployment to be in Scottish and Welsh waters. There is significant growth potential there, and that can ultimately deliver new and disruptive local supply-chain content to support the future floating offshore wind projects in Scotland. That could lead to the creation of new high-value jobs in a sustainable growth industry.

I want to assure the hon. Member for Glasgow East that my officials are in regular dialogue with officials in the Scottish Government and with colleagues in Scottish Enterprise, and we will continue to work with them to support not only the Scottish Government’s efforts to help those affected but the broader manufacturing industry and economy in Scotland. As we build back from the pandemic, we should be pulling together more than ever to strengthen our United Kingdom and learning from one another to try to achieve the best outcomes for our great nation. We will continue to deliver for people across Scotland as part of a strong United Kingdom, and I am not saying that to make a partisan point or to show up political differences. I just think that when we look at the human cost, it is so important to realise that we are a collection of communities as well as of nations together.

The United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 provides the opportunity for the UK Government to complement and strengthen the support that is already given to citizens, businesses and communities across Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. For the first time in decades, we will be able to provide direct financial support to regenerate town centres and high streets together, to improve local transport links and infrastructure together, and to invest in cultural, sporting and economic development that will level up the whole of the UK.

We are going to boost funding for communities with the £4.8 billion levelling-up fund to support local infrastructure and with £220 million to invest in local areas, ahead of launching the UK shared prosperity fund in 2022. That is in addition to the £1 billion Glasgow city deal that supports tens of thousands of new jobs through infrastructure and also through innovative industries including high-tech manufacturing, life sciences and advanced design. Scotland will clearly continue to benefit from our £352 billion package of covid-19 support, which has protected one in three Scottish jobs.

Glasgow and East Kilbride will benefit from new jobs and investment from the Government, with the Cabinet Office and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office moving hundreds of civil service roles to Scotland. That will create new opportunities for brilliant Scottish public servants to join UK efforts to tackle joint domestic and international challenges. We will continue to work for every citizen, every community and every business across Britain to improve quality of life and access to opportunity by harnessing local economic strengths.

Coming back to Tollcross, I know that this will be a deeply worrying time for the workers and families affected by the recent announcement from Pladis on 17 June that it was going to issue the HR1 redundancy notice. We have to work together to do everything we can to ensure a bright future for these workers so that their skills can continue to be used to benefit the local economy in Glasgow and more widely. I join the hon. Member for Glasgow East to encourage Pladis to work in a responsible and compassionate way for its employees. My ministerial colleagues and officials stand ready to work with the Scottish Government and the hon. Gentleman to do all we can to assist the employees affected so that they have access to all available support. We must work together to make sure that manufacturing continues to grow and provide skilled, well-paid jobs in Glasgow and Scotland. The proud history of Glasgow’s manufacturing sectors, together with its achievements in sustainability and aspirations to be the UK’s first zero-carbon city, provide a firm and enduring foundation for future jobs and great opportunities.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.