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Coty Site (Seaton Delaval)

Volume 653: debated on Monday 21 January 2019

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

I held an Adjournment debate on this subject just over a year ago, when this factory closed. The factory was originally owned by Shulton. It made Old Spice aftershave, which anyone who is as old as me will remember. This was the company that made that product, and still made it up until the factory’s closure. Of course, it went on to make Hugo Boss, which cost about 40 quid a bottle.

The factory closed under poor circumstances. There was a merger: Coty, an American company, had a 48% share and Proctor & Gamble a 52% share. A year after the merger, the factory closed. The company had factories in Spain, France and Germany. It also had a factory in Tipperary in Ireland, which closed along with ours. I believe that it also has one somewhere in Kent—in Ashford, I think.

The owners decided to close down the Seaton Delaval factory, which was making a good profit. Proctor & Gamble had invested £21 million in the new factory. We could not understand why they wanted to close it, until we looked into the deal and found that it was cheaper to sack British workers than it was to sack Spanish, German and French workers. It was down to the capitalist system—that was the way that it worked. The Americans wanted to take over the company and to get rid of some of the competition, and the cheapest one was, unfortunately, Seaton Delaval at that particular time. It was at least 20% more expensive to sack German workers and at least 7% more expensive to sack French workers.

The factory has been standing empty since it closed. I do not know whether it has deteriorated, but I am told that it is still in good shape. Heather Mills, who, as everyone will know, was married to Paul McCartney, is becoming a very decent and entrepreneurial businesswoman. She has already opened a couple of factories: one is in Seaton, producing vegan food. Vegan food might not be appetising to some of us in this Chamber, but it certainly is among the young people. From what I have heard, there are 3.5 million vegans in this country at this moment in time. Of course, that says a lot. Something is clearly going on here, because some of this food is pretty tasty. I have never tasted it, but my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) says that he has had one of Greggs’ sausages. I may never have tasted vegan food, but my granddaughter has. She buys it and says it is quite tasty now—not like it used to be in the old days, when it was horrible stuff. Now they put all sorts of spices in, and they do a good job.

Heather Mills wants to expand. She wants to use the Coty factory so that she can export—she has another factory making food for this country. The problem is that the owners are asking a lot of money for the Coty factory and the price is too high. She wants to invest a lot of money in it. The investment needed to get the factory up and running is about £4 million; after fitting it out with all the machinery, we are talking about £6 million. We can see that she needs a lot of money. I do not know what the owners are asking for the factory, but I know it is a lot.

We want to be careful here. I found out that Canada is investing $153 million in vegan food. Remember we have a trade agreement with Canada—well, Europe has. Canada wants to become a world leader in vegan food. If Heather Mills wants to outdo Canada, we need to help her with costs.

The last time I spoke about this here, the Minister who responded was someone who later resigned over Europe—I cannot think of his constituency.

Order. Mr Shannon, I am sure that you have a direct link to the debate and that that is why you are here to help us.

Does the hon. Member for Blyth Valley (Mr Campbell) agree that the Government have the ability to intervene in such cases? An empty factory could open and therefore create jobs. There must be consideration of the local economy, and perhaps the Government could indirectly help the constituency.

I tried vegan sausage rolls in Westminster Hall’s Jubilee Room last week, and the taste convinced me. It was hard to tell between the vegan roll and a sausage roll; I had both, and that is my honest opinion—and I love sausage rolls.

That is an example of why I will have to change my food habits. I do not know what the local Indian takeaway will do when I go in and ask for vegan food. I do not think it will work. I will have a try, anyway.

There were a lot of jobs in the factory when it was run by Coty and Procter & Gamble, and they were all lost—at least 500 permanent and a lot of part-time jobs. The part-time jobs went to local people—married women doing a little bit of extra work. Those jobs were not replaced, but I understand that most of the older men got redundancy. I am not saying it was a bad deal. They got a good redundancy package, and most of them went on to get a job—that was the last information I had. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) makes an important point about investment in places such as Seaton Delaval.

Let me repeat what the Government said the last time this was debated:

“The Government are supporting the economy of the north-east by providing £380 million of local growth funding and improving infrastructure, skills, innovation and transport. That funding will lever in £300 million of public and private investment, and will create about 8,000 jobs.”—[Official Report, 20 April 2017; Vol. 624, c. 873.]

That was what I got the last time I was here, when the factory was closing. I am hoping that that is still on the table, and that the Minister can at least give some indication of whether we can help Heather Mills’ VBites—that is the name of the company, and Heather is its leading light. The jobs would be very important for this part of the world, with so many having been lost there.

Will my hon. Friend briefly explain how many jobs could be created, and what that would mean for the economy of south-east Northumberland?

I am told that the main factory, which is good and has been invested in, would provide from 500 to more than 600 jobs for those preparing the food. As a knock-on, the rest of the factory would be made into start-up businesses. There are five or six small areas for start-up businesses, which is a good idea. I am told that if it takes off, we are talking about over 1,000 jobs. We should think about that venture, because vegan food is taking off. I am delighted to hear about vegan sausages; I must try them, seeing that everybody else has. I must try vegan food—I am sure I will one of these days—but I do not think the Indian restaurant has vegan chefs; that is the problem.

Seaton Delaval went through a bad patch last year when it lost all those jobs, especially the part-time ones. It wants them back. I drive past the factory often, and it is a shame to see that nice factory, which has had a lot of investment put into it, standing empty. I would like to see the Government giving a bit of encouragement and help. If their statement from my previous debate means anything, they should help.

It is a great privilege to appear before you this evening, Mr Deputy Speaker. You will not be able to get a sausage roll, vegan or not, between the ambition that the hon. Member for Blyth Valley (Mr Campbell) has for his constituency, and my ambition for the area. I will self-declare: I am not taking part in Veganuary, and I am not a vegangelist—the vegan equivalent of an evangelist—but I have tried a Greggs vegan sausage roll. It tasted to me much like any other Greggs sausage roll: not very nice.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate on an important subject for his constituents. As he mentioned, it is not the first time he has done so: he brought it to the House in 2017. When a factory closes after 50 years at the heart of a community, all our thoughts should be with the people who worked there. I am very pleased to hear from the hon. Gentleman that many—96%, according to our measure—of those who worked in the factory have obtained new employment. Mr Deputy Speaker, you, like me, represent a manufacturing area. You will know that many people who work in manufacturing plants are concerned when they hear about redundancies, which affect not just them, but their family, their mortgage, their children, and all their hopes and ambitions for the future.

I understand that the hon. Member for Blyth Valley was absolutely instrumental in putting together the local response group when the redundancies were first known about.

The hon. Gentleman worked with the local authority, the county council, my Department, the Department for Work and Pensions and other Government agencies. I am informed that following the sterling work of the hon. Gentleman and others, 96% of former employees of the factory said that their transition from their former workplace was a success. However, that is not in any way to downplay the stress and disruption that families faced.

Turning to the future of the site, as the hon. Gentleman rightly points out, it was the place where Old Spice was manufactured. Its advertising slogan was, from memory, “The mark of a man”, but they also had this rather wonderful slogan on their bottle: “If your grandfather hadn’t worn it, you wouldn’t exist.” That shows that the advertising campaigns of the 1970s were slightly different from today’s. Thinking about the 1970s, beards are back in fashion, and apparently nationalisation is back in fashion in some parts of the House. Socialism is also back in fashion, allegedly, but not with my constituents. Perhaps Old Spice is due a comeback.

The hon. Gentleman is right that it is extremely important that this site remains vacant. He brings new information to me and to my Department about the interest of Heather Mills in acquiring the site for one of the exciting new businesses of the future—providing vegan food. I will certainly agree to go away with my team and make contact with Heather Mills. I must admit, as someone from Liverpool, that I was on the other side regarding the divorce, but I do know that through that divorce she obtained £24 million from Sir Paul McCartney, and she requires £10 million to deliver on her factory. All that aside, it is a new opportunity for the site and to create the desperately needed, secure, highly paid jobs that for me, as the northern powerhouse Minister, are about delivering the northern powerhouse.

As for the money going into the north-east, since the hon. Gentleman’s last debate we have seen the successful conclusion of the north of Tyne devolution deal. I worked very closely with people on a cross-party basis to secure what I am certain is a hugely exciting opportunity for the boroughs north of the Tyne that, across the lifetime of the deal, will see £600 million invested in the area. That is information new to this debate. I hope that he will reach out to the Mayor, Norman Redfearn, who was appointed temporarily until elections next May. The fact that no one has yet been elected should not discourage the hon. Gentleman from talking to the north of Tyne boroughs and the combined authority about ways in which they can lever in some of the £600 million—£20 million a year—that they are going to receive as part of this exciting deal.

Talking about economic renaissance, particularly of our manufacturing, the hon. Gentleman should look for inspiration—quite a long way down the road, but down the road none the less—at the work Ben Houchen is doing as the Mayor of Tees Valley. Like all the best people seeking to drive the northern powerhouse forward, he is working across political lines. He has been successful in setting up the first mayoral development corporation outside London for decades. On a recent visit to the SSI site, which many people would know as the former Redcar steelworks, I was pleased to announce £14 million of additional funding, which is part of the regeneration and redevelopment of that site, creating the highly paid, secure jobs that we all want to see in the northern powerhouse.

The hon. Gentleman talked briefly about the contribution that the LEP could make. He will be aware that £3.4 billion has already been invested across the north of England as part of the growth deals, with £379.6 million going into the north-east. The north-east has one of the highest performing LEPs. That is why—it is almost a victim of its own success—all of that £379 million is currently committed. That does not mean that if projects are underspent or do not proceed there will not be an opportunity to talk to the LEP about redirecting any underspends from the existing money. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman says that he has a meeting with the LEP. I encourage him to use that meeting to see whether that is possible.

In general, I believe that we are in a golden period for investment in the north-east. It is a hugely exciting time, with a Mayor in Tees Valley and a Mayor north of the Tyne. I hope that regardless of our political allegiances, we can lay aside our differences and say that our mission here in the House of Commons is to ensure that people across the north of England—north-east, north-west, Yorkshire and the Humber—benefit from the Government’s plan, the northern powerhouse. In one sentence, that is a plan to create better education, and better social and economic outcomes, across the north of England, so that no other generation will believe that their best hope and opportunity lie in getting the train to London, but can stay in the north of England, which all of us in the Chamber, virtually, have the privilege of knowing is the best place in this country to have the privilege of living.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.