“British Jobs for British Workers” cried Iain Duncan Smith at a recent gathering in Spain, echoing Brown’s flat footed attempt to encourage employers to recruit British workers instead of Poles, Lithuanians or Filipinos (supposing they can find any that are prepared to work under the conditions on offer).
But days later about half the workers at Bombardier, the last train-making factory in Britain (but owned by Canadians), are being made redundant, because the British government has awarded the contract for Thameslink trains to the German company, Siemens. British jobs for German workers?
This is a strange action for a government, the stated aims of which are to create a manufacturing sector renaissance in the country; a government professing a pro-industry agenda.
Philip Hammond, the Transport Secretary, was amusing in his interview with Evan Davis on the Today programme. It was, he said, all the fault of the Labour Government who set up the bidding process. We should look to the Continent of Europe, he continued, and copy the way the French and the Germans do business. French companies build French trains; German companies build German trains. So, within the constraints of the free market, of which he professed himself to be a staunch advocate, he wanted the government to "look more strategically" at how it can support domestic manufacturers by awarding contracts. British jobs for Canadian workers?
Hammond somewhat unwisely went on to scorn the fact that the last government had called the project “Thameslink 2000”, and that ...here we were in 2011... Dangerous, I thought, given the anticipated forthcoming travails, and delays, concerning the high speed link between London and Birmingham!
The Bombardier plant at Derby employs 3,000 people, but its future is now in serious doubt. Its contracts to produce trains for National Express East Anglia, London Midland, and London Underground's Victoria line are due to be complete by September, leaving the Derby plant with only one contract to produce trains for the London Underground. It is doubtful that this will be enough to sustain the company’s plant in England.
I do agree that we should look at creating jobs in the domestic market. I personally try to buy Scottish made goods whenever I can. But we also need to look at the cost, the quality and the reliability of what we buy. I think it unlikely that I will ever use a Thameslink train myself, but I’m pretty sure that the people who do will be looking for as reliable a service as possible.
PS: If you were wondering about the Michael Fox reference in the title, I was just pondering what it is with politicians like Hammond (as he did in his "Today" interview) that they feel compelled to use the buzz expression “going forward” and then add “in the future”? I mean, you really can’t go forward in the past!