Unions, RDAs, and even the government led to a victory for Wolverhampton

Shadow communities mininster Jack Dromey MP writes about the success Wolverhampton has seen in convincing Jaguar to retain their plant in the area.

Jack Dromey MP (Labour, Birmingham Erdington) is the shadow minister for communities and local government

Last month Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) confirmed its plans to invest £350 million to build a new engine plant in Wolverhampton. Nick Clegg and Vince Cable captured the headlines by visiting JLR’s Solihull plant on the day but the truth is that government, local authorities, the regional development agency Advantage West Midlands (AWM) and local MPs all played a role.

And what you will never hear is that this was also a historic victory for modern British trade unionism and the workers at JLR, working with a world class company to transform its fortunes.

In October 2009, Jaguar Land Rover announced that they would review their British operations, moving from three to two plants. The Jaguar plant in my constituency of Birmingham Erdington was widely viewed to be the obvious factory to close, the factory that built the Spitfire during the War and two generations of the Jaguar after. 2,400 worked there.

In March, 2010, a new management team, Tata chairman, Carl-Peter Forster and JLR CEO, Ralf Speth took the helm. They announced they would have a fresh look, a ‘100 days review’. All the indications were, however, that the Jag would still close.

Within days of the May general election, I met Carl-Peter and Ralf. They told me they had been impressed at the strength and potential of the motor manufacturing cluster in the Midlands. A cluster built up and nurtured by the outstanding work of AWM over many years. What was clear from our discussions was that a radical deal with the workforce was needed.

A deal was then put together with Unite, persuading the three plants that there was a huge prize. Negotiations nearly broke down several times but, working with Ralf, we managed to overcome those problems, with the deal, the most radical of its kind in the car industry, being concluded in October.

The historic announcement was then made on October 15th. The company pledged £5 billion investment over 10 years. Crucially, at the heart of the decision was Tata committing to Britain as its global hub.

Within weeks, talks began with JLR on the next step, the engine plant. The company wanted to develop its own factory, no longer relying on other suppliers. Their options were, primarily, India or Wales, the North West and the Midlands.

For a second time, a complex package was put together. Advantage West Midlands, the regional development agency foolishly scrapped by the government, helped with the land for the site. Staffordshire County Council undertook £13 million prudential borrowing to build the link to the M54. We formed an all-Party group of local and JLR MPs to lobby government, this time to become involved. In 2010, they played no part. It was the company and the workforce.

And, once again, a radical deal was facilitated with the workforce on the terms and conditions in the new plant.

The result was a £370 million investment from JLR and £10 million from government, creating 750 highly skilled engineering jobs and thousands more in the supply chain.

The engine plant is the biggest new automotive plant in Britain for 20 years. And JLR is now looking at bringing back on-shore some of its global supply chain. Furthermore, this will greatly strengthen the motor manufacturing cluster in the Midlands, with enormous potential for growth and manufacturing renaissance.

The remarkable turnabout is a great success for the workers and their union committed to helping their company grow and bringing in jobs and investment.

Far too often the media chooses to focus on where relationships have broken down and the blame is unfairly laid at the door of workers. Here workers and the employer worked together to deliver fantastic investment to the West Midlands and a great deal for Britain. There were many who played their part. Lord Kumar Bhattacharyya, a key player in Tata, played a crucial role.

Above all it was the combination of a visionary company and remarkable leadership by Unite, nationally and in the plants. In bleak times, this is brilliant news.

See also:

Coalition manufacturing policy shot to piecesTony Burke, September 30th 2011

Does China present a threat to British jobs or an opportunity for growth?Emma Reynolds MP, September 23rd 2011

CBI survey shows glimmer of hope in UK manufacturingTony Dolphin, August 24th 2011

Osborne’s ‘march of the makers’ is beating a retreatTony Burke, August 2nd 2011

Manufacturing continues to hold up the economyTony Dolphin, March 10th 2011

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