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Bombardier redundancies: does anybody care about Derby?

Thanks to my job as a business journalist, I can reel off facts and figures on topics from projected GDP growth in the Russian Federation to the outlook for tanker chartering rates. But I couldn’t tell you much about what they do in Derby these days. There’s no reason why I should know that, of course. But I had rather assumed the Treasury would be on the case, and factor wider considerations into government policy decisions.

Not so, according to the railway industry trade press. Lack of regional microeconomic data meant that nobody thought twice about what awarding a £3bn contract for 1,200 Thameslink carriages to Germany’s Siemens would mean for the East Midlands town.

Translation: Whitehall is insufficiently interested in what happens out in the sticks even to keep tabs on faraway places of which it knows little.

The upshot is that some 1,400 manufacturing jobs will shortly go at Derby’s Bombardier rail carriage factory, and that’s just the down payment. The Canadian-owned parent company is conducting a review of its UK operations, and may well decide to pull the plug on an operation that has been ongoing for the last 160 years. That will put another 1,600 on the dole.

The RMT union claims that the knock-on effects of even the first round of redundancies will mean that a total of 13,000 job losses. I would ring up and ask how they arrive at that figure. But if the Treasury can’t be bothered with that regional microeconomic data malarkey, I suppose a guesstimate from Bob Crow’s boys is just as valid as anything the civil service are likely to come up with.

Maybe – just maybe – someone will snap up the leftover assets, in the way that Nanjing Automobile did for what was left of British Leyland. But Derbyshire jobseekers probably shouldn’t hold their breath.

Reaction from the left has been to point a finger at EU procurement rules, which ostensibly makes it illegal for countries to privileging nationally-based suppliers. That doesn’t stop German trains being made in Germany, or French trains being made in France.  But that’s just a coincidence, right?

As a reflex demand, ‘British contracts for British companies’ is just as misguided as the call for ‘British jobs for British workers’. It’s not even as if Bombardier is British, anyway.

But equally, it seems crazy not even to take into account the devastation that handing the work to Siemens will have across an entire county and beyond.

Unless there is some technical deficiency with Bombardier’s offering – and I haven’t heard anyone suggest that their products are in any way substandard – the Department for Transport needs to rethink. There is more to healthy economic life than financial services, you know.

One Comment

  1. Gillian Kalter says:

    http://www.sbb.ch/en/corporation/media/press.newsdetail.2010-5-78778.html

    I have been sharing this information over the last few days. It concerns the Swiss Govt awarding a contract for 59 new double-deck trains to Bombardier rather than Siemens. It has made an enormous difference (in the form of jobs) to the area where I live, a mile away from the Bombardier site at Villeneuve, CH. Why couldn’t this be done for Derby?

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