Orders of the Day — Scottish Development Agency Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:03 pm on 29th October 1987.

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Photo of Dr Norman Godman Dr Norman Godman , Greenock and Port Glasgow 8:03 pm, 29th October 1987

It is savagely apposite that I am talking about the Scottish Development Agency and the Inverclyde initiative at a time when hundreds of families in my constituency are discussing fearfully the rumours and speculation surrounding Scott Lithgow. Tonight on the Scottish television programme "Scotland Today" it was claimed that hundreds of men will be made redundant at Scott Lithgow very soon. That is sombre news, and it has more strength than unconstructed press speculation. I left the Chamber to make a telephone call to a constituent who works at Scott Lithgow. He said that that was the rumour circulating throughout the yard late this afternoon.

As the Minister knows, the yard has only one contract, to build the Britoil rig Ocean Alliance, which is due to be floated out of the yard within the next fortnight to the tail of the bank so that the final work can be carried out on the rig. Then she will leave the Clyde for ever, and my deep fear is that the jobs of 1,200 men will go at the same time.

Ministers despise the honestly awkward critic in the Opposition as much as they deplore the awkwardly honest critics on their Benches. I plead with the Minister to give emergency help to the people in my constituency—to those honourable, decent, fine men who work on the Britoil rig.

he Scottish Development Agency has an important role to play in the revival and growth of the Scottish economy. Its role becomes increasingly significant day by day in my constituency. It has to reactivate and, in some cases, to resuscitate the local economy. Against the background of the impending redundancies and the massively high unemployment in my constituency, I wish to discuss the role of the SDA — in the shape of the Inverclyde initiative—in the revival and growth of the economy of the lower Clyde.

In his annual report for 1987, that famous Greenockian, Sir Robin Duthie, the chairman of the SDA, said this about the Inverclyde initiative: Based in the community, the Inverclyde Initiative is supported by local government and the Agency, and spans the full range of economic development. Now in its second year, the Initiative has made substantial progress towards its goal of revitalising the area by broadening its economic base. Progress has been made in three major areas—commercial property development, factory provision and training. With respect to Sir Robin, I must disagree with what, in today's circumstances, is an over-optimistic view of the Inverclyde initiative.

The report may contain a coded message for Scottish Office Ministers. I hope that they are listening. The Inverclyde initiative is changing character. The original idea of the initiative being steered or driven by the private sector has been a failure. That realisation must be a bleak disappointment to those who put forward the concept of private sector involvement. Over a period, the initiative has developed into a traditional public sector activity increasingly dependent upon the SDA, the Inverclyde district council and Strathclyde regional council. The initiative's changing role takes place amidst the deeply disturbing economic circumstances of the lower Clyde. The industrial structure of Inverclyde has experienced and suffered major changes in the past 10 years. Manufacturing employment has declined from over 50 per cent. of total employment to below 35 per cent. Shipbuilding employment has fallen from more than 9,000 in 1977 to fewer than 2,600 today. If the stories about Scott Lithgow today are accurate, that low figure will be much lower early in the new year.

In 1979, Scott Lithgow employed fully 7,400 men. Some of the rumours circulating in Greenock and Port Glasgow today speak of the yard being put on to a care and maintenance footing early in the new year. Inverclyde is now dominated by a very small number of large employers — IBM, Scott Lithgow with its precarious future, National Semi-Conductor and Playtex.

Since March 1985, when the Inverclyde initiative was set up, the local economy has declined further. Twenty-one companies have closed with the loss of more than 1,000 jobs. Notified redundancies from January 1985 to August 1987 amounted to almost 3,000. Unemployment in the Greenock travel-to-work area is well over 9,000 and seems likely to increase. That represents an unemployment rate now, using the Government's figures from the local jobcentre, of over 20 per cent. That figure can be compared with 18·1 per cent. in Strathclyde, 13·4 per cent. for Scotland as a whole and 11·5 per cent. for Great Britain. Male unemployment in my constituency now is about 25 per cent. Indeed, I can be a little more accurate. The latest figures that I have seen from the jobcentre show a male unemployment rate based on Government figures of 24·8 per cent.

Against that bleak backdrop, the Secretary of State for Scotland encouraged the SDA to consider giving further support in Inverclyde. As a result, one more official was appointed to the team. That is a tiny addition in the light of what needs to be done by the Inverclyde team. I must state here and now that the Inverclyde team is made up of very hard-working, honourable and decent public officials. I have enormous respect for Donald Draffen and his too small team with its inadequate budget. The Secretary of State has declined to give the Inverclyde initiative an identified budget and argued that, if appropriate development is identified, finance will be made available. That added finance is desperately needed, given the economic problems facing the lower Clyde.

There is at the moment a small advance factory building programme under way in Port Glasgow. However, the scale of that development is wholly inadequate in terms of the problems facing the communities. It is essential that Inverclyde is identified as a prime location for inward investment and recognised as a priority by Locate in Scotland. I believe that the investment that has taken place in recent years has gone to areas identified by Locate in Scotland and not to areas identified by incoming investors. I have to say that with deep regret. Some of the inward investment should have come to Inverclyde over and above what has come our way in the form of assistance with the National Semi-Conductor and other developments.

The scale of the problem is immense. The Government have rejected out of hand setting up a fund for the retraining and redeployment of redundant shipyard workers. There has been discussion between the Inverclyde initiative and British Shipbuilders Ltd. with a view to further activity in Inverclyde, but to date that has not led anywhere. Again, that is a matter for regret. We should have something analogous with the British Shipbuilders Ltd. enterprise agency. That is desperately needed in Inverclyde.

It is also now essential that a part of Greenock or Port Glasgow be declared an enterprise zone. I have no doubt that the financial and economic benefits of an enterprise zone supported by the resources of the SDA would reactivate the Inverclyde economy. I sincerely hope that the Secretary of State for Scotland supports the case for the Inverclyde enterprise zone. I fear that his Cabinet colleagues are less than enthusiastic supporters of any form of regional assistance. Their indifference or hostility may harm the chances of an enterprise zone being set up in Greenock.

It is important to create new jobs. I look forward to the day when the Inverclyde initiative or the Minister from the Dispatch Box announces massive inward investment to Inverclyde in the shape of a factory with several hundred permanent jobs. As important as the creation of new jobs, however, is the retention of the jobs already in the constituency in places like Scott Lithgow and Fergusons at the Newark yard and Clark Kincades. It is absolutely essential that orders be found for those three establishments. Ministers may boast about new jobs coming to Inverclyde by way of the initiative—albeit slowly—but at the same time they regret the redundancies among existing employers.

I have said that I am deeply concerned about the worsening circumstances at Scott Lithgow. At the moment the yard does not have an order to replace the Britoil rig Ocean Alliance. The yard desperately needs an order or two. I sincerely hope that the Scottish Office will give the yard all the help that it needs to pull in orders from the offshore sector, perhaps including Ministry of Defence orders. For example, the contract for the floating jetty for the Clyde submarine base will be going out to tender in the very near future. I know that that contract has nothing to do with the Scottish Office as it is an MOD order. However, it is a massive order, perhaps in the region of £20 million, whether it is a concrete or a steel structure. Whether it is concrete or steel, the best place for it to be built is on the other side of the Clyde. I know that the order relates to the Trident programme. However, I am desperate to find work for my constituents and the Government are, unfortunately, here for another four years. I am a realist in these matters. I know that the Conservatives are in terminal decline in Scotland and I hope that that disease is contagious and we get rid of some of these English filibusterers.

Scott Lithgow is the place for the floating jetty contract, especially if it is to be constructed of steel.