Derby is a major manufacturing city in the UK and proudly boasts two very high profile employers in Rolls-Royce and Bombardier. These 2 companies provide a significant proportion of the jobs in the area either directly, or indirectly, through the supply chain or other forms of financial flow down. Unfortunately the downside of this lucrative position is that the fortunes of the area depend on the success of these businesses, and the vagaries of global decision making.
Whilst Rolls-Royce has been an independent company since it was privatised back in the 1980’s the Railway engineering establishment in Derby has been something of a “problem child”. It started off being part of British Rail Engineering, and then was sold to Asea Brown Boveri in the 1980’s, then to ADTranz, and then finally to the Canadian company, Bombardier. This track record does not bode well for any long-term strategic intent for the people based in Derby with each new owner being more of a “foster parent” rather than a formal adopter. This would raise a question in my mind about how seriously the current owners are managing and developing the long term prospects of the facility. Are they going to stay longer than their predecessors?
With respect to the Thameslink contract, there was always going to be a legitimate risk that the contract would go to Siemens. Were Bombardier complacent in their approach? Did they assume that it was a “done deal” – given the contractor was the British Government? Why does so much ride on this one contract? They should have a spread of business?
Many questions remain unanswered about the legal position of the bid, and only insiders are able to reliably comment on whether the decision can be reversed. The 4th paragraph on page 16 of the invitation states “The issue of this invitation to tender in no way commits the secretary of state to award the Thameslink Rolling Stock Programme to any person or party”. This is certainly an area for the legal experts to pursue and ensure that any available loop-hole is exploited.
There has been talk of the Siemens work being partially sub-contracted back into the UK, and some of the initial manufacturing being done in the North East. Again, clarity over the true position is difficult to assess and the net impact on the UK economy should be self-evident from the bid document, and capable of independent investigation. Disappointingly, the Transport Secretary, Philip Hammond has decreed that this is commercially confidential and cannot be released.
Cameron, Hammond et al have declared that their “hands are tied” and is subject to EU Competition law – where are the signs that they have tried to challenge this? Publish the documents, and letters, that support this position – be transparent in the attempts to protect UK jobs.
Whilst all of the political wrangling and corporate posturing continues , there are 1400+ people in the Derby area who may find out before Christmas whether they are likely to be made redundant. It is unlikely that they will be absorbed locally, and their skills may have limited transferrability in the East Midlands. Not since 1971 when Rolls-Royce was declared bankrupt has a major issue of this nature affected the city.
Derby is a small, uninspiring city in the East Midlands, with little to attract people to it. With the dominance of the 2 local employers then it tends to have a community spirit about it with generations of the same family working in the same company. The local football team is very well-supported which draws on this underlying cohesion through the city. Typically Derby is non-aspirational, and has a small city mentality – it does not make a fuss, and seems to follow where others lead.
The march on the 23rd July 2011 demonstrated to the Government that this issue has touched a raw nerve, and the people are determined to make their voice heard. This was not a demonstration of students, and youths bussed in from far and wide, exploiting a bandwagon – this was Derby people of all ages, from all backgrounds making an effort to exert their voice in a democratic way. The Government is there to represent the people, not to be elusive and secretive, and certainly not to justify an outcome that is not in the interests of the electorate.