GKN Automotive Plant: Birmingham — [Dame Angela Eagle in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:47 am on 28th April 2021.

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Photo of Mick Whitley Mick Whitley Labour, Birkenhead 9:47 am, 28th April 2021

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dame Angela. I congratulate my hon. Friend Jack Dromey on securing this debate. I thank him for all he has done to secure the long-term sustainability of the GKN Birmingham plant and to support the 519 workers whose livelihoods are now under threat.

First, I should declare an interest. For 27 years I worked at the Vauxhall car plant at Ellesmere Port, before serving as the north-west regional secretary of Unite the union, of which I remain a member.

The automotive sector is truly the jewel in the crown of British manufacturing. It is deeply distressing to see its future thrown into jeopardy as a result of the pandemic, Brexit and a neglectful Government whose pledges to level up and build back better are worth less than the paper they are written on. We should be very clear: the closure of the plant is not an inevitability, as shop stewards of the plant have demonstrated in their two-part alternative plan. GKN Birmingham remains financially viable. With the right investment and direction, the plant can soon be returned to profitability by improving productivity and transitioning towards the production of parts that will be essential if the UK is to become a world leader in the electric vehicle revolution. The proposals are a testament to the expertise and imagination of workers on the shop floor, whose views are so often disregarded by management, but deserve serious consideration.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington said, the alternative of shuttering the plant doors for good would devastate his constituency, which, like mine, already suffers some of the highest levels of deprivation and joblessness in the country.

The consequences of the plant’s closure would also be felt much more widely. The offshoring of a vital part of the automotive supply chain, and a loss of precious jobs, skills and infrastructure, would be a body blow to an industry struggling to recover from the worst year in its history. As a member of the International Trade Committee, I am acutely aware of how the pandemic dramatically exposed the vulnerabilities of international supply chains. Now, more than ever, we need to invest in domestic industry, and build up skills and well-paid jobs at home. That must begin with the Government investing in the future of Britain’s automotive industry at GKN Birmingham and Vauxhall’s car plant at Ellesmere Port.

When it comes to protecting a critical part of the supply chain at GKN, no option should be off the table, including part or whole state intervention or nationalisation, or any legislative measures that safeguard the plants from asset-stripping venture capitalists. If the Business Secretary fails to act now and make the crucial investment needed to allow the transition of plants like GKN and Vauxhall towards the production of electric vehicles and parts, it will not only condemn hundreds of jobs to the scrapheap, but fatally undermine the Government’s commitments to phasing out diesel and petrol vehicles, and achieving net zero emissions.

The Government face a major test—are they serious about levelling up left behind communities such as Birmingham, Erdington and Birkenhead, or is their pledge to deliver a green industrial revolution just another empty Tory promise? In Birkenhead and Wirral, thousands of jobs hang in the balance.