Bombardier blames the Government as it axes 1,400 jobs

The decision to award a big train-making contract to the Germans is a bit awkward for a Government supposedly committed to UK manufacturing...

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012
Bombardier says it’s planning to make more than 1,400 redundancies at its Derbyshire factory, after the Government awarded a £3bn contract to make 1,200 Thameslink carriages to German rival Siemens instead. The Canadian train manufacturer is going to cut 446 permanent and 983 temporary staff, about half of its 3,000 employees. At a time when the Coalition is desperate to big up British manufacturing, it’s a little embarrassing to be giving a contract of this size to the Germans. But ministers insist they didn’t have any choice…

Naturally, Bombardier’s decision has provoked a huge amount of ire from unions – and even prompted a brand new Bob Crow-ism: ‘industrial vandalism’. Transport secretary Phillip Hammond denied the redundancies are entirely the Government’s fault: he says that Bombardier wrote to him before the final decision on the contract to explain that because a number of its other large contracts were about to come to an end, it would have to make ‘1,200’ redundancies anyway. However, Bombardier itself doesn’t seem to agree, saying the Thameslink contract ‘would have secured workload at this site’. So we’re not sure what to make of that.

Either way, after months of the Government braying about the crucial role manufacturers have to play in getting the economy back on track, not to mention last week’s controversial assertion that businesses should be employing British workers over cheaper foreign counterparts, awarding such a large contract to a German company does send out a rather unfortunate message.

However, it also highlights the challenges facing the Government. Obviously they need to be seen to support UK plc, but given the state of the public purse, they’re also under pressure to get the best possible value for the taxpayer. And in this case, there was also a procedural complication, according to Hammond: the process was set in train (so to speak) by the previous Labour government, and the strict stipulations of the tender apparently made Siemens the obvious choice. So even if he’d wanted to intervene in Bombardier’s favour, he wouldn’t have been able to.

That may be so – but it does serve as a reminder of how daft it is for politicians to make promises about British jobs that in practice they probably won’t be able to keep…

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