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8 July 2008 : Column 414WH—continued

I should make one thing clear at the outset. Job losses such as these are not only bad news for the area, as my hon. Friend said, but will obviously be damaging for the families of those affected. At the very least, it will lead
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to insecurity and uncertainty and, in some cases, more serious consequences for the family budget and the ability to make ends meet.

In the few minutes that remain to me, I wish to pay tribute to the long service of those who have lost their jobs, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby. I assure them that the Government will do what they can at this difficult time.

I do not want to go over the story again, but I shall set out the Government’s position in such circumstances. I have to be honest and say that we cannot prevent firms from running into trouble. We cannot protect companies from the competitive pressures of the economy. However, we have a role to play if there are large-scale job losses such as this. Jobcentre Plus should be involved as early as possible. It is committed to providing a professional and, I hope, constructive service to employers and employees in such situations.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington set out some of the history of the matter. I shall give my understanding of it. On 9 May a meeting took place between the group’s chief executive and the Northwest Regional Development Agency to discuss the possibility of future funding. Jobcentre Plus attended at least part of that meeting. It was hoped that Jobcentre Plus would be able to attend a further meeting, but I understand that that did not happen. However, a meeting took place on 30 May between Jobcentre Plus and the company’s human resources department, at which a support package was discussed, and Jobcentre Plus sought further information. However, Jobcentre Plus was somewhat surprised by the announcement on 9 June outlined by my hon. Friend. As he said, the management buy-out of shares was announced on the same day.

I set out that timetable in order to make the point that the earlier Jobcentre Plus is involved the better.

John McDonnell: The Minister referred to a meeting earlier this year. Would he be surprised to hear that during a presentation to the board on 9 July 2005, there were discussions about assistance from the development agency? That was three years ago.

Mr. McFadden: I understand the point that my hon. Friend makes. Now that it has happened, it is important that Jobcentre Plus works with other local agencies, such as the learning and skills council and the city council, which has work-based education and training services, to help the workers involved. I realise that none of that will give people back their jobs. However, it may help those affected to find alternative employment or training.

John McDonnell: The point needs to be made clearly. We understand that assistance can be provided by Jobcentre Plus. We used it extensively, and it was a great help. We also have links with colleges. However, this was being planned three years ago. There were three years in
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which to engage in discussions. That would at least have provided people with a future rather than having to suffer this brutal treatment.

I know that others would have liked to be here today. My hon. Friends the Members for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble), for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden) and for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Crausby) were equally angry that the company did nothing for three years, but covertly planned this operation without consulting the unions, or even their own work force.

Mr. McFadden: The accusation that my hon. Friend makes is one at least of bad faith. I understand that. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central said that it may go beyond bad faith. I should point out that if it is believed that the directors went beyond bad faith and did something contrary to the law, the administrator should be informed. He has a duty to report to the Secretary of State if it appears to him that a director has engaged in conduct that would render him unfit to be concerned with the management of a public company.

John McDonnell: What should happen if there were allegations that the administrators themselves had been involved?

Mr. McFadden: My hon. Friend asked whether we could meet before the recess. I am always happy to do my best to accommodate such requests. I shall not engage in diary management in the middle of a debate, but I shall not be disappearing immediately the recess starts and I shall endeavour to meet hon. Members.

When jobs are lost there is often bad feeling, and understandably so. Questions are asked about whether the situation could have been better handled, and whether things were done in the right spirit. However, there is a difference between that and making accusations that there has been a breach of the law. In such circumstances, the Insolvency Service’s company investigation branch and various parts of the Department will be involved, and breaches of the law would be of interest to them. I leave that thought with my hon. Friend.

I am coming to the end of my time, but I want to reiterate what was said about redundancy payments. It is correct to say that the Government have a role. People should not be left high and dry without redundancy payments. The redundancy payments office in Edinburgh is working hard to ensure that the workers receive the full statutory entitlement as speedily as possible. Claim forms have been issued to former employees. I understand that approximately 300 forms have been returned to the Edinburgh office by the administrator. The office expects to have paid the majority of those by the end of this week. The staff are working as quickly as possible to ensure that the workers get at least the statutory payments to which they are entitled. In February this year, that amount was increased to £330 per week.

I understand the pain of the employees involved, and I am happy to meet hon. Members if they wish to raise further issues.

It being Two o’clock, the sitting was adjourned without Question put.

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