Rolls-Royce (Redundancies) Debate

10th June 2020

Nadhim Zahawi responds on behalf of the Government to an Adjournment Debate on Rolls-Royce redundancies.

I thank the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) for securing this important debate today. I note that my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson), whose two sites in Barnoldswick are impacted—I know that some of those workers actually live in your constituency, Mr Deputy Speaker—and my right hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mark Spencer), the Chief Whip, have both made representations to me on behalf of their constituents.

I would like to begin by stating that Rolls-Royce is one of our most important manufacturers in the United Kingdom. It is the world’s second largest manufacturer of large civil aerospace engines and our largest civil aerospace company, and it accounts for about 2% of all UK exports of manufactured goods. On 18 May, the Business Secretary spoke to Warren East, the chief executive of Rolls-Royce, who advised that he would be making an announcement on restructuring plans involving job reductions globally. Warren East explained that this latest restructuring was a difficult but necessary decision to respond to the changed medium-term market conditions for civil aircraft resulting from the covid-19 pandemic and, of course, to ensure the long-term sustainability of the company. Although still uncertain of the number of job reductions at any particular location, he indicated that all of its civil aerospace sites were likely to be impacted, and assured us that Rolls-Royce would notify the MPs in the constituencies that would be affected. Warren East was grateful for the Government’s covid-19 business support measures, which are helping the company in the short term. However, he made it clear that no Government support could replace the lost global customer demand and reduced flying hours. Rolls-Royce made a public announcement on the restructuring plans on 20 May. It said that it would reduce its global workforce by at least 9,000, and that about two thirds of the job reductions would be in the United Kingdom.

Did the Minister challenge Rolls-Royce on why the UK is losing workers so disproportionately, what the reasons are for that and what it could do to reverse that decision?

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s question, and I will come to that a little later in my speech. Essentially, the number reflects the proportion of civil aerospace jobs here compared with Rolls-Royce’s global footprint.

Rolls-Royce has now commenced its statutory consultation process, and on 3 June it opened a voluntary severance scheme that will reduce the number of compulsory redundancies. The Government fully appreciate that this news will come as a crushing blow—a crushing blow—to the Rolls-Royce workforce. We understand what a worrying time this is for its proud and talented workers who, through no fault of their own—and we heard the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North eloquently describe the workers in his own constituency—will now be affected by this decision.

We now know that reductions are planned across all Rolls-Royce’s UK civil aerospace sites, and last week Rolls-Royce confirmed that at least 700 workers will be affected in Inchinnan in the hon. Member’s Paisley and Renfrewshire North constituency. The site in Inchinnan currently has about 1,300 employees, who manufacture compressor blades for civil aerospace and defence products, as well as performing maintenance, repair and overhaul services. I would like to use this opportunity to assure the hon. Member that my officials are in regular dialogue with colleagues in Scottish Enterprise, and will continue to work with them to support not only the Scottish Government’s effort to help those affected, but the broader aerospace industry that he spoke about in Scotland.

Over 200 job losses are proposed at Rolls-Royce in Barnoldswick. Rolls-Royce is a jewel in the crown of manufacturing in east Lancashire, and it is important to everyone, not least my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson), who has worked extremely hard on this. Does the Minister agree that supporting the small modular reactors programme would help protect jobs at Rolls-Royce?

I thank my hon. Friend for her question. I was going to come to small modular reactors later on. Supporting that programme will mean that Rolls-Royce will have another product line which could become a world beater in a market that we estimate to be worth about £300 billion a year.

I hear what the Minister says about liaising with Scottish Enterprise and so forth, and I am aware of the engagement that Rolls-Royce has had with Scottish Enterprise and the Scottish Government, but what are this Government doing, other than warm words with Scottish Enterprise? What are the Government doing to keep the jobs in this country?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, and I hope that as I make some headway in my speech he will recognise what we are doing. I can tell him, because he asked about this earlier, that in terms of financial support the corporate finance facility from the Bank of England has provided £1.8 billion of support to airlines, and £300 million to Rolls-Royce—I will come back to that—and £60 million to Meggitt as well.

I want to press the Minister further on the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands). The Minister speaks about dealing with Scottish Enterprise and officials in Scotland, but I am afraid that that sounds to me like looking at the impact of this and thinking about the pace and so forth. Every time I visit a Government Department there are posters up all over the place saying “Britain is GREAT”, “Britain is open”, and “Britain is great for manufacturing”. The Minister mentioned that the Secretary of State had a conversation with Rolls-Royce on 18 May; has the Secretary of State picked up the phone to Rolls-Royce since then, or is it the UK Government’s view that it is just inevitable that this is going to happen, and in fact Britain is not open and Britain is not good for manufacturing? That is the message that I am getting at the moment.

It is exactly the opposite of what the hon. Gentleman says, and I hope that when he listens to the words that I am about to deliver he will recognise the support we are putting into the aviation industry; I hold calls with the whole of the sector and I hope he will see after I have completed my speech to the House that this Government are committed to the sector.

The Minister is about to talk about the financial support that the Government are providing to the sector, but he has also spoken about the catastrophic fall in demand for both air travel and new aircraft. Could the Government bring forward any measures to stimulate demand for air travel?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question, and, again, he anticipates my speech. We are looking at all of this, as I hope he will recognise from some of the things I will be saying soon.

I am very interested in what the Minister has just said about looking at ways to facilitate an improvement and an increase in air travel given the crisis we have just gone through. Does he agree with me and probably all his own Back Benchers that not having the quarantine, which has been brought in with no real medical evidence to support it at this late stage in the game, would help, and that to impose it will in effect deliver a hammer blow to some of the industries that he says he is trying to help?

With respect to the hon. Lady, I completely disagree. At the beginning of this epidemic, when we were in the contain phase because the number of incidences was low, we had a triage at ports and airports for passengers coming from hot countries and places such as Wuhan and the rest of China, northern Italy and then the whole of Italy, Japan and of course Iran as well. But as we moved from contain to delay, because the virus began to spread in our communities, the scientific advice was very clear that having that sort of triage at airports was making very little difference. Now that we have the virus under control, and the numbers are reducing every single day and the spread in our communities is becoming very low, it is dangerous not to have a quarantine, because we could easily import the virus from other countries. We are reviewing this every 21 days, and, of course, working on the air bridges that we have heard the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Transport talk about for the future. That is important; lives are incredibly important, but so are livelihoods.

Will the Minister give way?

I will try to make headway, without abusing your patience, Mr Deputy Speaker. I have given way before, so now let me try to make some headway with my speech.

We will do all we can to support every worker affected at each location, including through the Department for Work and Pensions, Jobcentre Plus and, of course, the Partnership Action for Continuing Employment in Scotland.

Rolls-Royce has confirmed that it will work with those bodies and other regional organisations, such as local enterprise partnerships, local authorities and the unions, to help those who will be affected to get back into employment as quickly as possible.

I have also kept in close contact with my counterpart in the Scottish Government, Fiona Hyslop and Ken Skates in the Welsh Government, and Diane Dodds and the Northern Ireland Executive. During these challenging times, we have a weekly call as a team looking at the shocks of covid-19. I will be meeting with the Minister for Business, Fair Trade and Skills next week to have an in-depth discussion on the Scottish aerospace sector. At a national level, we are working closely with the aerospace industry, particularly through the Aerospace Growth Partnership. My colleagues were asking what support we will be delivering to assist companies through the pandemic and into recovery—

With all due respect, all of us are having those types of meetings on a daily basis, and we understand the challenges facing the sector. The difference is that the Minister is in a position to do something about it, and the clock is really ticking now for many, many workers, including small and medium-sized enterprises in the supply chain that supply Rolls-Royce. Redundancy notices are being handed in to trade unions now. We are losing workers, we are losing skills and we are losing production capacity. May I gently encourage the Minister in his summing up perhaps to give us some dates and some announcements about action that will be taken, ideally, in the coming weeks?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, and I hope that, as I make some headway, he will see some of the action that we have already taken to help the industry. I have held several meetings with groups of senior industrialists from the sector during this period. I am pleased that aerospace companies have been able to draw on the Government’s extensive financial support package, which includes £330 billion of loans and guarantees, the tax deferrals and the furlough scheme for workers. Rolls-Royce has benefited from £300 million of support from the Bank of England’s Covid Corporate Financing Facility. My Department is working with an industry-led UK aerospace supply chain taskforce, set up by the ADS Group, the national aerospace trade association, in consultation with Airbus. The taskforce, led by Tom Williams, the former chief operating officer of Airbus, is looking at supply chain vulnerabilities within the industry and at potential remedies, including around financing. That will ensure that ongoing covid-19 Government support is co-ordinated with the actions of business to support supply chains and employment.

We are continuing to back the sector strongly. Our Aerospace Technology Institute, the ATI programme, is providing £1.95 billion of Government funding for aerospace R&D by 2026, which will be matched by industry. The programme has been a game-changer for the UK aerospace industry since 2013, providing real long-term certainty about the availability and the level of public funding, giving industry the confidence it needs to invest. From Broughton in north Wales, to Derby in the east midlands and Inchinnan in the constituency of the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North, we are at the cutting edge of global aerospace innovation. We manufacture the most advanced parts of an aircraft here in the UK, and we want to maintain our position for many years to come. Indeed, creating this positive business environment helped to give Rolls-Royce the confidence to build its new large engine testbed in Derby, the largest indoor facility of its type in the world.

Will the Minister give way?

If the hon. Gentleman will give me a couple more minutes, I will come back to him.

The facility is capable of testing large engines and, crucially, the next generation of UltraFan engines. Looking to the future, we recently opened the £300 million feature flight challenge, which will award £125 million of grants to small and medium-sized companies investing in future aviation systems and vehicle technologies, which will enable new classes of electric or autonomous air vehicles. We are supporting SMEs through innovation and productivity programmes, and we are looking at what scope there is to refocus some of these to assist with the short-term needs of businesses. That is what we are doing currently with those SMEs. We are making sure that Rolls-Royce and others can sustain investment in cutting-edge technology so that they are competitive when the markets actually recover. Our joint research projects funded through our ATI programme, which I referred to earlier, are supporting the development of the next generation of cleaner and quieter aero engines.

I thank the Minister for his generosity in giving way. He rightly talks about the support the Government have given to industry and the aviation industry, but with that we expect some corporate social responsibility. Will he outline what that means? Does it mean the Government are going to have to and will review redundancy legislation so that companies that are not engaging in CSR and are getting taxpayers’ money are told by the Government, “Sorry, you can’t make people redundant.”?

I hope to address the hon. Gentleman’s point in my concluding remarks. Suffice it to say that the most valuable resource in any organisation—I have spent more years being in business than I have as a Member of Parliament and a Minister—is the human resource and that any leader, and chief executive, would be minded to think long and hard before behaving in a way that makes their people, the family who make up their business, feel as though their leadership are not listening to them.

In addition, we are supporting investments in new green aviation technologies, which will not only help us to deliver on our net zero commitments, but keep the UK at the forefront of the aerospace sector globally. We continue to back Rolls-Royce’s export campaigns, including, where needed, through UK Export Finance. The recovery of the aerospace sector is, of course, dependent on the wider aviation sector, as has been mentioned in this debate, and on getting aircraft flying again. The Government are committed to getting this crucial sector restarted. Led by my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary, we are in active discussions with industry through an expert steering group, as part of an international aviation taskforce. The group has been instrumental in the development of the health measures guidance for passengers and operators, which my Department for Transport colleagues will be publishing as soon as possible. The border health measures that we spoke about earlier will be subject to review—currently this will be every three weeks—to ensure that they are in line with the latest scientific evidence, and remain effective and necessary. We are examining the possibility of alternatives to the international passenger self-isolation rules, including air bridges, where countries have managed the virus and we are confident in their measures for departing passengers—I spoke about that earlier. We will continue to work with industry on this concept and, ultimately, we will be guided by the science. I am sure the House will appreciate that the health of the public will always come first.

I thank the Minister for giving in and giving way. Let us go back to the welcome support he outlined, which he is saying the Government are putting in for the future of aviation and cutting-edge technology, and being ahead of the world. If the UK is going to be so far ahead of the world and the Government are providing all that long-term certainty, can he explain why Rolls-Royce is still laying off so many workers in the UK? That still does not square. Let us go back to back the earlier intervention about small modular reactors. This is an unproven technology and good money is being thrown after bad. If we are looking at diversification, should it not be into green renewable energy? Should we not be looking to throw money into this in that way, to help sectors diversify, instead of looking at more nuclear energy?

The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful point, but I did address it earlier in my speech—I hope he will read it in Hansard tomorrow morning.

I know that workers at Rolls-Royce who risk losing their jobs will be in a state of shock at the way events have unfolded. Just a few months ago, the sector was thriving. Apart from the financial impacts and worries, this news will take its toll on the overall wellbeing and health of individuals and families. I know that Rolls-Royce will act in a responsible way—colleagues mentioned corporate social responsibility—in assisting those affected and, as I have committed, we will also do all we can to support them.

I started by speaking about the importance of Rolls-Royce to the UK. Although this restructuring is hugely painful, it is intended to make sure that the company remains competitive and can return to growth in civil aerospace as we come out of the covid-19 challenge. Rolls-Royce remains committed to the UK, evidenced by their investment of over £2 billion in UK infrastructure over the past five years. We will continue to support the company and the wider UK aerospace industry to get back on its feet and back it into a position of growth, protecting high-paid jobs across the length and breadth of the United Kingdom.

The workforce was mentioned. The leadership at Rolls-Royce have made it very clear to us that they are being sensitive to their workforce, which is why they have introduced the voluntary scheme first of all. I will end by saying that we continue to look at what other countries are doing around the world in supporting aerospace and aviation, and we will review our support in the light of the global environment.

Hansard

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