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…