Caravan Industry: Hull and East Riding

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:28 pm on 15th June 2020.

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Photo of Nadhim Zahawi Nadhim Zahawi Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 9:28 pm, 15th June 2020

I congratulate Emma Hardy on securing this evening’s debate, and I congratulate Karl Turner on his passionate speech. A number of colleagues were ingenious in their interventions, certainly my hon. Friend Mr Holden, because of Elddis in his constituency, but also Jim Shannon and my hon. Friends the Members for Waveney (Peter Aldous) and for North Cornwall (Scott Mann). There is also, however, one Member present who cannot speak as he is the Whip in charge, my hon. Friend Michael Tomlinson, who has Regal in his constituency. As we can imagine, my constituency of Stratford-on-Avon has some wonderful caravan parks and caravan holidays, and I urge anyone looking for a staycation, which the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East rightly reminded us about, to visit Stratford, or at least have it on their schedule.

I would like to take the opportunity to thank the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle for her work, but also those in the public, private, community and voluntary sectors, and partners across Hull and East Yorkshire for all their outstanding work and support during this difficult time. Hull and East Yorkshire, along with north Lincolnshire on the Humber south bank, is one of the UK’s most significant industrial and manufacturing clusters.

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East rightly reminded us of the capabilities of Siemens Gamesa. Of course, there is Ørsted in the offshore wind sector, RB in health and Wren Kitchens in manufacturing, together with a strong small and medium-sized business base in the region. That has enabled the area to make real strides in improving economic performance.

Since 2010, the employment rate in the Humber has increased by 4.7%. There is undoubtedly a bright and optimistic future for Hull and East Yorkshire and the wider Humber economy. The caravan manufacturing industry, with its long and proud history in Hull and east Yorkshire, can be an important part of that future. That is certainly how the Department sees it.

Thousands of people are employed directly in the caravan manufacturing industry and its associated supply chain, as we heard from the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle. Theirs are important, skilled jobs, which make a significant contribution to the local and national economy. There is no doubt in my mind that the medium to long-term prospects for the industry are strong. The British public have a long-standing love affair with their caravans, which transformed the holiday habits of generations of families following the post-war boom in the 1950s and up to the present day.

I believe that there are exciting new opportunities for the industry, with the prospect of more families holidaying in the UK. The industry has shown that it can diversify its products to meet the changing demands of a new generation that wants to have that wonderful caravan holiday. There are new, modern luxury caravans and mobile homes that can provide higher-quality, safe-distancing accommodation as we transition out of the current crisis. They can also provide flexible and environmentally friendly leisure experiences, tailored to different tastes and pockets for decades ahead.

The industry is also a major exporter, as we heard from the hon. Lady, and it is well placed to exploit new potential overseas markets. However, I recognise that it faces challenges in the immediate future. I am well aware that large parts of the caravan sector have been furloughed and, regrettably, some people have been forced into redundancies. For caravan workers and their families, along with many others throughout the country who may have been furloughed or made redundant, I recognise that that must be deeply unsettling and worrying. The hon. Lady made a powerful point about the interventions that we are making in the economy.

However, in 2008, the caravan industry in Hull and the East Riding of Yorkshire was severely impacted by the financial crisis, as the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East said. It bounced back. Backed by the Government’s determination to do all we can to support the industry and its workers, it can bounce back again. There are early positive signs. Coachman Caravans in Hull recently reopened its factory following a temporary closure due to covid-19. It has followed the Government’s guidelines to restart production while keeping its staff safe. It is not alone. East Yorkshire-based Victory Leisure Homes is investing in immersive visitor experiences as it looks to capitalise on the future staycation.

We are listening to the industry, too. The Chancellor’s decision to take action on the rise in vehicle excise duty on new motor homes in the Budget demonstrated that the Government are determined to maintain a vibrant caravan and motor home industry in the UK. Members of Parliament, including the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle, should be congratulated on highlighting the impact the proposed increase would have had on the industry.

I would like briefly to set out the Government’s business support package, which already supports the caravan industry and its workers. The Government are committed to doing all we can to support UK business through the current crisis. The Chancellor has announced an unprecedented package of support. To help firms continue to keep people on the payroll, the Government introduced the job retention scheme, more commonly referred to as the furlough scheme. Since it opened on 20 April, it has protected touching on 9 million workers and 1.1 million businesses, including in the caravan industry, through the crisis. On 12 May, the Chancellor announced that the scheme will continue until the end of October. It will continue in its current form until the end of July, and then changes to allow more flexibility, which many colleagues appreciate, will come in from the start of August. That flexibility will help to support furloughed workers as they return to work.