When David Cameron and George Osborne visit Derby today, observers may have an uncomfortable feeling of deja vu.
There was a similar visit four years ago. On that occasion, David Cameron said that he had brought his Cabinet to Derby:
“To ask one fundamental question: what is it that we can do in government to help the economy to rebalance, to grow, and for businesses to start up, to invest and to employ people?”
Three months later the Government awarded the Thameslink contract to Siemens, forcing Bombardier to announce over 1,400 redundancies and threatening the very future of train manufacturing in Derby.
The truth is that the last two Tory Governments have been a disaster for rail manufacturing in Britain. John Major’s hopelessly botched privatisation of British Rail led to a thousand days without orders – leading to hundreds of job losses and a permanent reduction in the UK’s rail manufacturing capacity. Plans to buy new trains were scrapped, and in York over one hundred years of passenger train manufacturing came to an end.
Unfortunately Ministers have learned nothing from the mistakes of the past. In 2010 the RTC Business Park was put up for sale, leaving the specialist rail firms on site with an uncertain future. Then after the collapse of rail franchising in 2012 – which directly cost taxpayers over £50 million – orders once again dried up. The Government’s own review of franchising warned that the debacle was having “a very negative impact on the industry’s supply chain.”
Alstom told MPs that “the reality is that lay-offs and downsizing have regrettably already commenced … with no refresh and the delay of new procurement, we estimate a loss of around 500 jobs for the UK as a whole, including the UK supply chain.” In August 2013 the maintenance company Railcare, which had premises in Milton Keynes and Glasgow, fell into administration as a direct result of the West Coast franchise failure. Over 150 workers were made redundant.
Cameron and Osborne should have come to Derby to say just one thing – sorry. Voters in Derby, Derbyshire and the wider East Midlands will not forget the damage that has been done, and they will not be fooled by this belated Tory attempt to pose as a champion of manufacturing.
The railway’s highly skilled supply chain supports world class research and development, and employs 120,000 people. They deserve better than their poor treatment under this Government. That’s why I’m determined to make sure the rail supply chain gets a fair deal. Labour is committed to continued investment in the rail industry and a long term plan for procuring rolling stock, providing certainty for businesses that have endured decades of stop-start investment.
The railways can have a bright future if the right reforms are made, and that’s why a Labour will put passengers and jobs first both in Derby and across the country.