Unite has called on the House of Commons business, energy and industrial strategy committee to insist business secretary Greg Clark reviews Melrose’s debt fuelled takeover bid of GKN, which has stoked fears that thousands of jobs could go as the UK’s national security is compromised.
The call came on Sunday (February 4) ahead of a meeting later this week between Clark and Unite’s GKN reps, who will urge the business secretary to use powers under the Enterprise Act (2002) to block Melrose’s predatory bid.
As UNITElive reported last week, given GKN’s involvement in aerospace used by the military, the government does have the power to intervene in the public interest under national security considerations.
Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner explained that the “short-term financial engineering” of Melrose’s bid is “is totally at odds with the long term approach and investment that is needed to power the government’s industrial strategy.
“Because of GKN’s extensive defence work the bid also raises serious questions about UK defence interests and capability,” he highlighted. “Aimed at turning a quick buck there is a real danger that if the bid is successful long term investment will dry up, leading to cuts in research and development and the UK’s defence capability being harmed.
Turner said that when Unite reps meet with Clark on Wednesday (February 7) they will ask the business secretary to intervene to block the bid and will also lobby for stronger takeover laws to ensure public and social interests are put first.
“The business secretary cannot duck his responsibility,” he said. “He needs to act in the national and public interest and block this bid which will ultimately result in parts of successful engineering being atomised and vital engineering skills and expertise lost.”
Meanwhile, Unite GKN reps met with a West of England joint committee on Friday (February 2) to press their case on a local level.
The committee is a combine of the four unitary authorities, Bristol, Bath and North East Somerset, South Gloucestershire and North Somerset, along with Bristol mayor Marvin Rees and West of England mayor Tim Bowles.
“GKN is a major engineering business and a world leader in motor manufacturing, aerospace, and defence,” said Unite regional coordinating officer for the south west Steve Preddy, addressing the committee.
“The Filton site employs 1,600 people, with the highest skills sets and engineering expertise producing high quality products for blue chip companies like Airbus and Boeing.
“GKN’s Western Approach site employs hundreds more at one of the world’s most advanced composite materials’ wing production sites,” he added.
“The aerospace sector in the south west is the UK’s largest. Some 17,000 people are employed across numerous direct and supply chain companies. Barely a town or constituency in the region is left untouched by this profoundly important sector of our economy.
“GKN is a large investor and stakeholder in the national composite centre here in our region, having invested £30m into Airbus’ future wing development.
“It is critical that GKN remains in place as a supporter of all these projects to help secure a strong local economy and future employment in our world leading aerospace sector,” Preddy went on to say.
“The alternative is Melrose, which has stated openly that it will look at jobs and sites as disposable assets to fund shareholder dividend returns, removing growth opportunities for our region and its aerospace cluster at a stroke.”
Speaking to UNITElive afterwards, Preddy said Friday’s meeting went “really well”.
“We had unanimous support from both the Bristol and West of England mayors and across the three main political parties,” he explained. “There was consensus across the board of the dangers the takeover could pose to national security, to jobs and to the area’s economy.”
Preddy explained that after the meeting, Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees and West of England mayor Tim Bowles agreed to write to business secretary Greg Clark on behalf of councillors in the region to press their case against the takeover.
Unite will continue to put “pressure on all fronts”, Preddy noted. He said that in addition to meeting with business secretary Greg Clark, Unite will also be lobbying regional MPs so that a question over the takeover is hopefully tabled in the Commons sometime this week.
“We are pleased about the level of support we’re getting not only from cross-party politicians but also from employers – from GKN itself of course but also from businesses across the sector,” Preddy said. “There’s recognition that the takeover could have a domino effect across the supply chain – aside from shareholders not interested in the long-term health of the sector, no one stands to benefit from this takeover.”
Find out more and help Unite in our campaign to save jobs by asking your MP to oppose the takeover here.