Below is the text of the speech made by Kevan Jones, the Labour MP for North Durham, in the House of Commons on 25 June 2020.
I congratulate my hon. Friend and parliamentary neighbour the Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist) on securing this debate. As she eloquently said in her speech, the workers from the site come from across the north-east, and I have quite a number in my constituency.
People might say, “Well, 255 is a small number.” No, it is not, because of the type of jobs that we are talking about. They are high-quality, well-paid jobs. The individuals who work there have worked there for many years, in some cases. They have dedicated their lives to producing top-quality banknotes, and latterly passports. It is quite ironic that, in terms of withdrawing from the European Union, the Government said much about how great it was that we were going to get the blue passports back—although when I look at them, they seem more black than blue—but we then find that they are going to be printed abroad.
In the past few days, people have been saying that the reason the Government have done this is European procurement processes. That is complete nonsense, because no other European country has done this. They have, quite rightly, seen the integrity of the passport system as critical national infrastructure and as part of their key manufacturing capability. That is what should have happened with this contract. I share some of my hon. Friend’s concerns about some of the management at De La Rue over the years.
In the north-east, we are going through dark times at the moment with the pandemic. I spoke about that in the previous debate. Unfortunately it is going to get a lot worse, not only in terms of the pandemic affecting the north-east and the higher rates of mortality than in other areas, but the massive economic impact. So this is a further blow to the north-east economy. We should be looking at this decision and seeing how we can reverse it. In the coming months and years, the Government have to step in and direct contracts and support to those regions such as the north-east that need that support. Without that, we will be in a situation where, as I said in the previous debate, we will return to the dark days of the 1980s in the north-east, where unemployment will be at record levels and the lost generation that we saw in the ’80s will be repeated again. We cannot afford to do that.
These are high-quality and very sought-after jobs. Anybody who works there will say that they are proud of working for De La Rue, because the jobs are not only well paid but highly skilled, and the terms and conditions are good. We do not lose those types of jobs in the north-east easily—they will not be easily replaced. I hear a lot from the Prime Minister about levelling up and investment in the regions. Well, he could do something about that now by reversing the decision on the passports. The north-east went through a terrible time in the 1980s and ’90s. We have turned the corner in some areas, but we are not going to do it in this current climate without some direct Government support.
It saddened me this week, for example, when I learned of the Government’s decision to award the vaccines manufacturing and innovation centre to Oxford. Why Oxford? My right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (John Spellar) asked where the other potential site was. It was in the north-east. So where the Government can actually help the north-east, they are clearly still not doing it. This has to be changed. We cannot have a situation whereby jobs are going to be lost, but also what should be retained in the UK in terms of manufacturing should be retained in the north-east. This was a Government decision—they cannot get away from that fact—and it needs revisiting. Without that, the Government have to step in somehow to ensure that the types of jobs that are being lost are going to be replaced.