In the 1980s, the UK Government decided to abandon the shipbuilding industry in my constituency. The subsequent catastrophe resulted in the loss of thousands of skilled manufacturing jobs and the decimation of an industry that people could take pride in. The UK Government pulled the plug from shipbuilding without even the façade of a workable regeneration programme for Inverclyde. By 1987, companies reliant on the shipyards began closing, and the area’s male unemployment rate skyrocketed to 25%.
The IBM facility in Spango valley was highlighted as an example of the skilled, sustainable and long-term employment that could offset the decline of traditional industries. In March 1988, Margaret Thatcher visited the IBM site to champion the cause of the private sector and to explain how it would save Inverclyde in the wake of the shipyard closures.
If we fast forward to the present day, we find the Queen’s Speech promising to spread economic prosperity, but we now know that, by the end of 2016, there will not be a single IBM job left at the Spango valley site. Two other major employers in Inverclyde—Sanmina and Texas Instruments—have also recently announced job losses. The cumulative financial and emotional toll of these losses on individuals, families and the wider community is impossible to quantify.
There are successful companies in Inverclyde, but the area is still trying to set sail against the winds of economic stagnation and population decline. I have written to the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister for Employment to ask them to visit Inverclyde to see the potential our area has to offer.
I know that many other constituencies across the UK are suffering from economic pressures, but Inverclyde seems to have suffered disproportionately for decades. We have had 30 years of economic decline, 30 years of depopulation and 30 years of UK Government indifference.
We are not looking for handouts. The people of Inverclyde are resilient and have an invaluable work ethic, but they lack opportunity. We need more than a token visit or a reactive taskforce every time a major employer announces redundancies. We need a workable plan for regeneration, and we cannot wait 30 more years for it to be implemented.
After the pain of the 1980s, the UK Government have a historical debt to Inverclyde. The Conservative Government of the time had an undesirable zeal and commitment to closing the shipyards. Sadly, that has not been matched by an equally energetic and unwavering commitment to regeneration. Some may say that this is ancient history, but my office deals with constituency cases every day that are a direct legacy of the decisions made by the UK Government in the 1980s.
I hope that the UK Government, as the only Government in the UK with the full range of economic powers at their disposal, will be part of the solution. If they are unwilling to help, they should give the full range of powers required to the Scottish Government and let them get on with the job.