Protection of Jobs and Businesses

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:05 pm on 9th September 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mick Whitley Mick Whitley Labour, Birkenhead 2:05 pm, 9th September 2020

The UK is facing a jobs crisis unlike any experienced in living memory. Hundreds of thousands of jobs have been lost. The UK is facing the worst recession of any advanced economy. Many people’s hopes and aspirations for the future are now in question, but the worst is yet to come.

Last week, the Trades Union Congress warned of a possible tsunami of redundancies when the furlough scheme and other support measures are wound down. The Office for Budget Responsibility has similarly warned that, by 2021, unemployment could rise to 3.5 million—just over 10% of the UK total workforce. This jobs crisis has been keenly felt in almost every part of our economy from aerospace to retail to the creative industries. In the short time available to me, however, I want to focus on the devastation that UK manufacturing faces if the Government do not urgently change course and extend the furlough scheme.

I should first declare an interest. For four years, I proudly served as a regional secretary of Unite the Union, of which I continue to be a member. In that role, I was privileged to represent tens of thousands of people working in the manufacturing sector, including more than 20,000 workers in shipbuilding and aerospace. I know just how rare these well-paid, high-skilled jobs are in the modern economy and how much pride these workers have in their work. I also know how vital these jobs are to some of the most deprived and left-behind communities in our country—the very communities that this Government promised to level up.

In the third quarter of 2019, there were more than 345,000 manufacturing jobs in the north-west. Research commissioned by Make UK showed that output and other levels in the region reached -60% and -65% during the height of the pandemic. This economic disruption will far outlast the current set of lockdown measures within the sector, which is set to contract by 9.4% in 2020. Job losses in this sector do not just impact those who find themselves suddenly unemployed—perhaps for the first time in their lives—but have a disproportionate and devastating impact on local economies. For every job lost at a private aerospace company, four more are lost in the wider supply chain and countless others in local shops, restaurants and independent businesses.

In short, the Government’s failure to extend the furlough scheme is nothing short of wanton economic vandalism. It risks not only devastating the manufacturing sector, but laying waste to some of the most marginalised and deprived communities in which manufacturing companies are based. With furlough schemes across Europe set to last until at least March 2021, it also risks seriously undermining the competitiveness of British manufacturing at a time when it could not be more vital to our long-term economic prosperity.