Vaux Brewery

Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 7:44 pm on 29th April 1999.

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Photo of Stephen Byers Stephen Byers Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry 7:44 pm, 29th April 1999

I note your point, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but may I say that we are offering regional selective assistance in relation to Vaux breweries? One reason why we are able to do so from our own budget, at £6 million, is that we will, with great vigour, reclaim £18 million provided to Siemens. Siemens has failed to meet employment conditions attached to regional selective assistance and will be required to repay the money. I can give my hon. Friends that assurance. We will also look carefully into the circumstances surrounding the Siemens decision.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South mentioned the support that might be given to individuals who may, after all our efforts, lose their jobs as a result of any decision to close the brewery. The company announced last week that redundancies would take place. Meetings have occurred between the company, the local training and enterprise council, the Employment Service and the local authority. I commend the work of Sunderland city council in endeavouring to secure the future of the Vaux brewery.

The Government office for the north east stands ready to handle sympathetically requests for assistance that emerge from those discussions. The Government have put in place special rapid response measures which can be deployed when there are redundancies on this scale. They have been highly successful in previous cases, such as those of Fujitsu and Siemens. We will do all we can to help the people affected to find new employment and will put rapid response measures in place.

Sunderland as well as Sheffield will take the heaviest blow as a result of the decision to close the brewery. We understand the difficulties that the city, its surrounding areas and, indeed, the community face. But in Sunderland there has been some good news as well as bad news recently. My hon. Friend referred to the devastating impact in Sunderland of the decline in the shipbuilding industry, but Sunderland has been reborn since the closure of that very important industry. New jobs have been found and Sunderland is still a good place to do business. We have seen with Nissan, the most productive car plant in Europe, the potential that exists in the north-east of England. Nissan is currently recruiting to build its third model in Sunderland, with 800 new jobs being created as a result. That is good news for Sunderland and is a positive endorsement of the benefits of locating there.

In other areas of manufacturing, there has been good news as well, from the manufacture of pumps and plastics to ships' cranes by Liebherr. The service sector is also set to create several hundred jobs. This is all good news, as is the fact that the Government and the European Union will continue to provide funds to promote economic regeneration.

The current north-east of England objective 2 programme contains packages of projects targeted directly at the Sunderland area which, if all taken up, could utilise over £32 million in grants from the European regional development fund and the European social fund. That is £32 million that will be used specifically for the purposes of economic regeneration and job creation.

I have no doubt that if the Vaux brewery in Sunderland is ultimately closed, it will be a major blow. No one can ignore that fact. But it is also clear that the north-east has many strengths. One of them is resilience in the face of hostility and adversity. There is a good news story to tell about the north-east. For some of us, it is a community that we joined and have been welcomed into. For many people, it is where they have spent their whole life. There are many strengths in the north-east. It is those strengths that will be called on in difficult times as well as in good times.

My Department stands ready to help the communities affected. We will not stand to one side and see communities being devastated—