Unite’s campaign to keep production of British passports in Britain was ramped up today as Labour MP Liz Twist presented an urgent question in the House of Commons this afternoon (March 26) on the issue.
MPs grilled Home Office minister Caroline Nokes over the government’s recent decision to award a contract to Franco-Dutch firm Gemalto to produce the UK’s new blue passports from 2019. The move will strip UK firm De La Rue of the work which employs several hundred people. At least 200 jobs are now at risk.
Twist, whose constituency Blaydon covers the De La Rue factory in Gateshead, gave an impassioned defence of her constituents who she said “provide a secure, quality passport with great pride.”
Nokes repeatedly made the case that the contract delivered value for money but Labour MPs highlighted that this represented a false economy, and more than just money must be taken into account when rewarding government contracts.
“The government must take responsibility for the fall out from workers, their families, the community and their wider industrial strategy,” Labour MP Diane Abbott said, as she called on the government to meet with De La Rue and trade unions to reverse the decision.
Labour MP Ian Mearns who represents Gateshead, where passport jobs are at risk, highlighted that the government should do an assessment of income from national insurance, corporation tax and income tax that would be lost to the Exchequer if the contract goes to Gemalto, which is part-owned by the French government.
Fears were also raised by MPs over the fact that Gemalto’s bid aggressively undercut De La Rue’s and other firms’ bids and might not be sustainable in the long-term – these fears were brought into sharp relief in the wake of Carillion, whose collapse was precipitated by the practice of underbidding.
The integrity of the procurement process was also called into question when it was revealed during the debate that Prime Minister Theresa May visited the new offices of defence giant Thales, which is now acquiring Gemalto, during the procurement process, while refusing to enable a visit by the immigration minister to De La Rue’s Gateshead site.
The prime minister’s visit came just days after a PMQs in February, when May said the government would not comment on bids.
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey welcomed today’s urgent question from Labour.
“When it comes to defending UK jobs, Labour is the party acting in the national interest,” he said.
“The more we learn about the passports contract, the clearer it becomes,” he added. “Theresa May has serious questions to answer about why a company 26 percent owned by the French state has won an important contract, putting 200 jobs immediately in danger and possibly many more.
“This is not about red, blue or any colour. It is about for standing up for UK jobs and industry, which time and again the Tories fail to do.”
Join Unite and the Daily Mirror’s campaign to keep British passport production in Britain by signing our petition here.
You can also catch the full debate here.