Comment: Monstrous betrayal could bring Derby to its knees

Chris Williamson was elected as Labour MP for Derby North in 2010.
Chris Williamson was elected as Labour MP for Derby North in 2010.

Fifteen thousand people in Derby have been left wondering if they'll be able to put bread on the table thanks to the government's decision to outsource the Thameslink contract to Germany.

By Chris Williamson MP

How best to deal with the global economic crisis is a debate which has arisen time and again in recent years.

At one end of the scale there is the slash-and-burn mentality that guarantees short-term pain to those who can afford it least in return for the promise of long-term gains. And at the other, there is the invest-to-grow approach which seeks to help our economy to thrive again as it has in the past by prudent spending and continuous, targeted support.


It is a debate which has come to epitomise the division between the two sides of the House of Commons since the 2010 general election. For those of us who believe in supporting the British economy, the damage that can be caused by slashing has never been better evidenced than in my home constituency of Derby in the past fortnight.

Derby is a city upon which Britain's railways were founded and where the country's last remaining train factory - that of Bombardier - remains today. It is an unsung hero of a city. Perhaps mistaken by the uninitiated as an anonymous town in the Midlands, it has grown to become a powerhouse of a city which has contributed massively to Britain's economy.

More recently, it has suffered like many other cities from the seemingly endless array of cuts being dumped upon it by the Tory-led government. Cuts which threaten the most vulnerable when they can least afford it.

Now, there is a very real threat that Derby could be brought to its knees by a betrayal of monstrous proportions. Because Bombardier's 3,000-strong Derby workforce, and the 12,000 employed by Bombardier's supply chain companies should have been celebrating the award of a £1.4 billion contract guaranteeing work for years to come. But instead they awoke to the news on June 16th that our government had sent the contract overseas.

Incredibly, the lame excuse offered by the government was that the Siemens plant in Germany offered "better value". But better value for who? Certainly not for the 15,000 workers in the Derby area who will spend the coming weeks and months wondering if they will be able to put bread on the table. And not either for the future generations of Derby people who might one day have worked in the plant, but who certainly never will if the government’s decision ultimately results in those jobs being lost forever.

What is so frustrating is that the government's decision, and the pathetic excuses offered up by transport secretary Philip Hammond, typifies the short-sighted approach that the government has to saving money.

It matters not if pound-for-pound Bombardier's bid for the Thameslink contract was a little more expensive than the proposals tabled by Siemens. It is precisely this kind of investment in our own cities which would help our economy to recover.

By shrinking the economy, as the government seems determined to do, it will never have the legs to stand up on its own two feet. And the government admitted to me, in a written parliamentary answer, that it does not hold statistics on the economic contribution of the rail technology industry in Derby and the East Midlands. So there is no basis for ministerial assertions about Siemens offering better value for taxpayers.

The government effectively made its decision in the dark without proper regard to the fiscal let alone the social implications of its decision. As if to rub salt in the wounds, the Thameslink decision came just days before Barclaycard announced that it was to move its base away from Derby, prompting another 659 redundancies in the city. This on the back of the 1,000 jobs at Derby city council that are being cut.

With many more predicted to follow as the government's crunching cuts on the public sector continue to roll out over the next couple of years the future looks bleak. And let's not forget the great knight in shining armour that the government promised would ride to the rescue of those public sector workers? Ah, it was the private sector. A private sector in Derby that would dearly love to be able to help, but which is being undermined at every junction by a government bereft of ideas and even more bereft of morals or a sense of loyalty. But as the government has not yet reached financial close, it is not too late for ministers to change their mind over the Thameslink contract.

It is a government which has shown more than a little propensity to make the odd U-turn since coming into office. And this is a U-turn which is not only worth making, but which could be the difference between helping a city stand up, or crippling it for years to come. It could also prevent the demise of the British train building industry, which has a proud tradition stretching back more than 170 years.

Chris Williamson was elected as Labour MP for Derby North in 2010. He launched a petition calling on the government to reverse its decision over Thameslink and copies can be obtained by contacting him at info@chriswilliamson.org.

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