I thank Mr Davis and my right hon. Friend Alan Johnson for securing this debate. The motion relates to the skills base of the UK's defence production, which many hon. Members have mentioned, and the workers who possess those skills are the most important aspect of the debate.
I have huge concerns about BAE Systems’ decision to sack up to 3,000 members of staff and the necessity of taking such action. I do not think that the Government have been particularly helpful either. Like many hon. Members, I received a letter from BAE Systems, which said that on top of the Eurofighter slow-down, one of the principal reasons for the labour force reduction was a
“slower than expected ramp up of the F35 Joint Strike Fighter Programme in the US”.
However, when asked how that related to the 3,000 job losses, BAE told my office that it was “unable to quantify” the number of jobs that have been lost as a result of the
“slower than expected ramp up”.
It therefore seems odd to assert that as a reason for job losses. I am incredibly concerned by that remark, as it seems to mean that BAE Systems is planning to sack people that it has not yet hired, which is a strange human resources model for a company that prides itself on its employment record.
Additionally, union officials representing BAE workers have told me that there are more people working on the F-35 than there were last year, and that there will be no decrease next year. In fact, BAE is still recruiting for the F-35. The Chancellor has said on more than one occasion that job losses at BAE are down to a reduced F-35 order from the US, which is not the same as a
“slower than expected ramp up”.
A reduction in projected future vacancies is not the same as losses resulting from reduced orders. I am worried that BAE is making ambiguous statements because the Government are making ambiguous statements. I pursued this in Defence questions on
I support the motion, and I want the House to make BAE aware that the reason it has been brought before the House is because of its particular relationship with the UK and taxpayers. The UK, and Lancashire and Humberside in particular, have through the years provided BAE with a great many reasons to be satisfied, and the UK taxpayer has invested significant resources in supporting the company’s operations. I would hope that BAE would honour that by continuing to invest in the labour force and the UK’s manufacturing base. We do not just want letters from BAE telling us how committed it is to the labour force. I want BAE in the UK, doing what it does best: manufacturing, exporting and employing people. The company has a great track record on employment and on investment in its staff, and I know that to be true without being repeatedly told by BAE. One has only to look at its links with local colleges and generous apprenticeship schemes.
I want BAE to recognise that it is deeply concerning to me and other hon. Members that the UK’s commitment to BAE is apparently not being reciprocated. Comments from a former Defence Minister about UK procurement moving towards “buying off the shelf”, and BAE’s huge expansion in Texas are worrying. The Government must be committed to a UK defence industry. The concerns of this House must be addressed: otherwise, BAE cannot justifiably continue to advertise itself on billboards and taxis as a company whose chief benefit to the UK is the number of people that it employs.
I want to conclude by making some remarks about the relationship with the wider economy. There is an opportunity for the Government to act. It is obvious that the Government’s plans for the wider economy are not working, and it is becoming increasingly obvious that a change of direction is required. Upgrading the e-scan radar in the RAF’s Typhoon fleet, or investment in the unmanned aerial vehicles, which we saw successfully used in Libya, could secure and create new jobs in constituencies such as mine. Given the time limit, I shall conclude there.