Select Committee on Trade and Industry Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120 - 128)

TUESDAY 13 FEBRUARY 2001

MR ALAN ROBSON, MR JOHN QUIGLEY, MR JOHN WALL AND MR NEIL MOORE

  120. This is a cultural thing, that British workers want to live near their work, basically?
  (Mr Quigley) It is a cultural thing. John makes the point very well, in relation to America, people do not think anything in America of leaving one State and travelling two thousand miles to another State to take up employment; but I think it is the nature of the culture and the nature of the environment and the living, people in the UK are reluctant to leave and travel 40 miles to a new location, in many instances, just simply because that is the area they were brought up in, they have got family ties. And I think it is a cultural thing in the UK and it is much harder to get people to move, it is just a reality and I do not know we change it. But certainly the uptake and these relocation packages, very small, it is usually younger people that take up that opportunity rather than older people, and the success rate of that, to be fair, companies actually put on the table some quite attractive terms for people to relocate, but the uptake has not been significant.

  121. I was going to say about the accents, the Scots and a Geordie, it is not a condition that is prevalent amongst trade union officers, but, John?
  (Mr Quigley) We do not have choices.
  (Mr Wall) If I may, Chairman, having done 23 years of missionary work in the North West, I have actually done a wee bit of travelling myself. There is a whole range of problems. It is most certainly a cultural thing. Where we have got clusters of sites, for instance, in the North West, where we have Warton, Samlesbury, Chadderton, Woodford, Chester, it is possible that you can actually move from one site to the other without having to go through the trauma and the huge gamble of uprooting stakes and moving. And, again, culturally, more and more, the person's partner has a career as much as a job, and there is that to be taken into the equation. We actually had some pretty nasty experiences, not so many years ago, where I was involved at Woodford with people relocating to Prestwick, and within 18 months of that relocation a significant number of those people were then made redundant in Prestwick, and that was horrendous, that was absolutely horrendous. Because it is bad enough being made redundant in your own neighbourhood, surrounded by your friends and relatives; when you have uprooted and gone 200 miles, and the same thing happens again—so there is clearly a fear of that. Another factor is that, whilst you can say that the relocation packages can look quite attractive, it is a question of scale; where you are leaving a very low-cost housing area, like I did, and moving into a very much higher-cost housing area, no relocation package is going to cater for that. So there is definitely a problem. I think companies could do more to get round that, actually, they really have not invested enough into it. There are noises made about there being relocation packages, I do not really think that they are good enough, they would have to look at that again, and even that might not shift the culture far enough.
  (Mr Moore) If I could refer to your first point, Chair, with due respect, and what encouragement for people in their livelihood, some means of higher subsidy towards it. I think, really, what we have got in the incentive for the employer is to avoid the circumstances and the situation that they are in today, that the companies the length and breadth of this country who are all experiencing a shortage of skilled people, in some areas it is as high as 64 per cent. And it does not actually just go from the skilled people, it goes into people, all people have some skills, whether they be complete craftsmen or not, in exercising their duty, and, I think, the picture that has been painted, that it is an obligation on us, politically and trade union wise, to say to people are they going just to continue with taking it off the taxpayer and letting the shareholders and the companies they belong to, who can be reaping the profits, not comply. Because it is abundantly clear, Chair, that the option, or the freedom of choice, to invest in training and research and development has not happened, they have not done it voluntarily, they have created this situation themselves, so there is a need for some regulation in respect of it, to make them. Because what we find, inadvertently, is, if there are times of shortage there are two things that are going, recruitment and safety, and some of the companies' safety records have been quite disastrous over recent years. So that is the incentive to people, the protection that is needed for the workforce, the need for them to stop the situation; in fact, it is a fact now that there are more people in this country employed in Indian restaurants than are employed in the heavy industries that we knew previously, that is a fact of life. That cannot be allowed to continue, and there must be an obligation on employers to take some of the strain off the taxpayer also, by contributing to the training and maintaining it, they go, their investment, and the unfortunate thousands, in the big industry, who have done a lot of training, have disappeared. The small and medium engineering companies perhaps do not have the total resources to do that, some of them are completely new entities into the situation, they may need guidance, in that respect, actually, too, as to what it means to them in the future. But I think there is a necessity for some regulation in respect of the funding for training, and for research and development.

  Chairman: I am not sure if there are more people working in Balti houses than in British Aerospace, but maybe we will come back to that one.

Mr Hoyle

  122. Chairman, just quickly, on some of the points that have been raised. Obviously, we do miss John Wall from living in Chorley, and he has moved off to Scotland; a plaque has now been placed on his house, so we need not worry, his memory will always be there. But, coming back to skills and jobs, what the problem seems to be is, there is a cloud hanging over people working throughout BAe Systems plants, not knowing where the cuts are going to take place; this is leading to uncertainty and it is also leading to, they are not officially saying where jobs are taking place, but people are losing their jobs at this moment, and they are being given alternatives, but those are not realistic alternatives. Somebody we know that has gone from Warton was offered a job in Saudi Arabia; that is hardly something like moving down the road, and I just wonder whether you would like to comment on that, because the big problem is, the cloud hangs there, nobody knows who is going to go, but people at this moment actually are leaving the sites because there is no future?
  (Mr Quigley) I do not know about there being no future at Samlesbury or at Warton, there is a considerable workload at Samlesbury and Warton. And I think it is back down to this question that the people that are leaving do not fit, if you like, the profile that the company is looking for, for certain disciplines.

  123. These are white-collar workers I have just been mentioning.
  (Mr Quigley) Yes. I think the reality is that, in the last two redundancies at Warton, there has been no-one from the manufacturing areas, when I say the manufacturing areas, I am talking in terms of direct workers have been within the scope of those redundancies, it has been the back-up, of the service people, of the indirects. And I think part of the debate we have had with the company, in relation to retraining people, has been that the company have come up with a policy of—their name, not mine—it is New Start, I think you have got to put a `new' in front of everything now, to make sure everyone knows it is modern, but, anyway, New Start is the name of the programme and it is to encourage people to take on another discipline, and the company are prepared to support people, even if they want to take that as far as a university degree. Now it is not everyone; again, we come back to this point, to try to tailor things for the individual is very, very difficult. You are correct that one point of moving, how mobile are people, because of the ties and the points John made, in relation to the culture and the difficulties you have got involved in that, and then this other question of we are dealing sometimes with people who have left a learning environment for a long number of years, and trying to encourage them into that learning environment again becomes very difficult. But we have made the point to the company that it is a nonsense to be paying hundreds and hundreds of thousands of pounds, in fact, millions of pounds, in redundancy pay, and it is if that money could not be better utilised in training people for the skills that they need in the industry. But, again, it comes down to trying to tailor these packages for the individual; sometimes it becomes very difficult. But, you are absolutely right, there are people leaving, and I have got to say, up until now, we have been fortunate enough that the people that have been leaving the two sites that you mentioned have left of their own volition, but, there again, we could say, well, what choice did they have anyway, because they felt threatened, in any case. And that is the point we always make to the employer, albeit that it is a voluntary scheme that they have run, in relation to those redundancies, in many instances the people never did have many choices, and it is about trying to give them choices of alternative employment that we have been arguing with the employer; but, again, tailoring those to the individual becomes very difficult sometimes.

Helen Southworth

  124. The Secretary of State, Stephen Byers, announced that he had written to the TUC and the CBI, inviting them to take part in a review of existing, collective, redundancy legislation, and in particular to consider what more could be done to promote effective consultation. Can you give us some indicators of what sorts of things you would like to see within that review, and what you think would be effective legislation for British workers?
  (Mr Quigley) I think we have seen some improvements under this administration, as far as consultation is concerned, but I think what we would be looking for is more time and more involvement before the decision is made, because I think, primarily, what happens is, a company takes a decision and then they come and they tell us about the decision, and then consult on that decision. We would rather have some background as to why companies are not involved, John made the point earlier, getting involved in that process, of where the problems are, where the challenges are for the business, and how, realistically, we can try to face in-company solutions about those problems, rather than the company making the decision, and they have made the decision and then they come and consult on that decision. They do not consult on the problem, they consult on the decision they have made, and we would rather get involved in the process. And, in many instances, it is a case of having a longer period, in order to examine all the avenues and all the options that could be open to us to try to improve the situation, rather than be faced with a decision the company makes and then the announcement of the redundancies along with that decision; because, nine times out of ten, that is where we are, with most companies.
  (Mr Robson) I think what bedevils the industries is the notion, by companies, that, if they tell the workforce, that is the end of the obligation; it has got to be a positive participation, because many, many debates have gone on, throughout the industries, but when they have listened to the employees, they have found out that they have had more benefit out of it. I can give you an example. A few years back, Brough, in Yorkshire, embarked on a showcase programme, it was £138 million, investment, development type of programme, and during the course of the programme, obviously, they had to shift all the structures around, the buildings had to be changed, the production lines had to be changed, the company embarked on a consultation process, but actually, physically, involved the workforce. And what happened was that the employees actually hijacked the whole process, and they were putting into practice far better techniques and organisational systems than those which were first envisaged. Now that is an example only on the production side. But there is this feeling among most companies that, if they tell you what the difficulties are, and the solutions, that is the end of it. John is dead right, it is like being a condemned man, you say, you know, "The good news is that you are going to be hung, and the bad news is that you have got to bring your own rope." And that is the type of attitude that we get. We would prefer that the position is being told early of the problems, and, for once, companies asking us how we would resolve them; now we do not profess to be commercial geniuses, or, indeed, profess to want to run companies, but, as the people who actually produce and manufacture the company's goods or services, surely, we have got the right to say, "Well, we believe the company are going down the wrong track on this issue," and really invite participative consultation. Consultation is brilliant, only when it is good news.
  (Mr Wall) Can I supplement that, briefly, in trying to go back to probably the initial comment that I made. It is not just consultation on the bad news and in the problems, really we should have an input into the actual strategies that the companies are making, we should be involved in the early days on that. And they have to bring the workers on board in where it is they envisage the company going, what expertise they wish to develop, what new areas they wish to go into, what areas they think are coming actually to an end, and really this has to be in a meaningful scenario, and some of the better of the European Works Councils actually do that. And there is absolutely no reason whatsoever that the UK aerospace companies should not be doing the same thing, rather than just come along and say, "We've got a problem, and this is your share of the problem."
  (Mr Moore) Can I just comment briefly, Chair, that I support completely what my colleagues have said, because what we have, and it can end up with the trade unions and the Government, in certain circumstances, made to look like the bad people, because we have certain proposals put forward, we have some just now in this country, where we are discussing with a large company in what is happening. And what it is, they have put their proposals, we have been given the opportunity to put alternatives; now what will emanate out of that, we have spoken to the Government, we met with the Prime Minister last Thursday, and we are speaking with Government, so what will happen out of that. The scenario is that, if we do not get some movement by the company, in respect of their original proposal, the bad people are going to be the trade unions and the Government, who will be accused of walking away from that situation. Now that is the scenario under the present structure that is allowed to happen; whereas, if there was a different involvement, and an involvement from day one, because I do not accept that all the brains are on one side of the table or the other, then it is important that we have this involvement earlier and be given the opportunity to utilise the expertise that is available from within our membership.

Mr Chope

  125. Just a quick question. You say you had the chance to meet the Prime Minister last Thursday, and you do not want a situation where the Government looks like being the bad boys. We had evidence from the Society of British Aerospace Manufacturers to the effect that the Climate Change Levy is a significant burden upon the aerospace industry. I presume that that is a verdict which you share. Can I ask for your confirmation that, on behalf of the interests or your members, you had a go at the Prime Minister, and said it would be much better for your industry if the Government abandoned its folly in promoting the Climate Change Levy?
  (Mr Moore) I could share your sentiment totally, but, at this particular moment in time, and we make this quite known, because people are trying to orchestrate it that way, that it is not the Government who have made the decisions that have been made by certain people, it is not the trade unions, and, at this time, our emphasis must be on the particular perpetrator of the crime, and we are doing that and we are concentrating on that, and we will be, because we have already made representations to the Government. And I do not know whether you were party to that discussion, when they met with the steel MPs and you have done what you have already done, we have made our point known on that; but, in this particular scenario, that I am talking about just now, we have a very important meeting tomorrow, after tomorrow then we will be able to dot Is and stroke Ts better, and see how the company is going to react. And we have been to see Government, you can rest assured we will be coming back, shouting at the door, and we will not be saying, if there are things of a constructive nature then they have been implemented, have been damaging, then rest assured the trade unions will not walk away from highlighting that.

  126. But, Mr Moore, we have got a Budget coming up shortly, and the Government then has the opportunity, in that Budget, to say that, because of the burden upon manufacturing industry of the Climate Change Levy, they are not going to go ahead with it, for this year at least; surely, that is something you would like to see the Government change its mind on?
  (Mr Moore) Certainly.

  127. Why do you not press on that particular point, which is highly topical at the moment?
  (Mr Moore) I mentioned one particular instance where we have met Government, we have met with the DTI on two occasions also, above that, and we are meeting those particular people relative to areas where we see particular funding, and so forth, which can be helpful, and certain problems that do emanate from it. But, at this particular moment in time, I am not running away from your question, and I am not afraid to say to certain people, you are doing wrong, we will do that, but I think it is a bit about orchestrating it, and it is about tactics, just now, and let us concentrate on, I am not prepared to put my eye on too many balls, I want to keep it on the one and take it that way. But your question will be answered, rest assured.

Chairman

  128. I think, on that note, we would like to thank you very much, gentlemen, for your evidence today. If there is anything you would like to supplement it by, or we might get in touch with you when we see the written evidence if there are points that still have to be addressed; but we thank you for your time this morning.
  (Mr Quigley) I would just say that my organisation has done quite a lot of work on the Climate Change Levy, we have made representations to Government on it, and we can certainly supply the Committee with the information we have got on that.

  Chairman: I think, actually, we have had the information from you in the past, because, prior to Mr Chope's membership of the Committee, a report on this moved the Government some considerable way, but not yet far enough, perhaps.

  Mr Chope: Not far enough.

  Chairman: Anyway, we will leave it there for this morning, and thank you very much.





 
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