As I See It: Terry Murden
It was all going so well. Just last week the First Minister pledged a further £20 million to support Scotland’s soon-to-be-built manufacturing ‘laboratory’, a facility to bring fresh ideas to market that would enable the country to once again boast about being a leader in making things.
Only days earlier, the new National Manufacturing Institute Scotland (NMIS), as the facility will be known, had hired its first chief executive – John Reid, a career industrialist who had spent a working life with Michelin, the French tyre company, and had latterly led the now-closed Dundee plant’s first steps to becoming an innovation parc, packed with new industry.
The appointment appeared to have robbed the Dundee project of its key mastermind just as it was getting off the ground. To that extent, Dundee’s loss was Renfrewshire’s gain and with Morrison Construction awarded the £42m building contract, the NMIS was moving swiftly from drawing board to reality.
Sadly, dark clouds were already hovering over Renfrewshire. As the consortium of academics, government and local authority officials and councillors were rubbing their hands in anticipation of seeing the NMIS finally come to fruition, one of the country’s biggest manufacturing companies was about to drop an enormous bombshell.
In truth, Nicola Sturgeon and her ministers and all those involved in the NMIS initiative were fully aware that Rolls-Royce was about to deliver a massive jobs blow to the area. It was just a question of how big.
Up the road from where the NMIS hopes to develop new ways of creating jobs, the aerospace company announced that because of the impact of coronavirus on the aviation industry, 700 roles would be lost at its Inchinnan plant, still less than 20 years since it was built to replace the ageing factory at Hillington.
Instead of talking about creating a new era of manufacturing, the chatter has turned to how to save what will be left. According to the Unite union, the site itself is now up for review.
At the weekend Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard wrote to the Prime Minister and Rolls-Royce CEO Warren East pleading for a last minute reprieve. He had been asked by the union to do what he could, but he must have known the game was up.
Rolls-Royce only makes engines for widebody long-haul planes, and that sector has been stuffed by the travel restrictions and the slump in aircraft orders. The squeeze was in evidence even before the pandemic took hold. Civil aerospace engine flying hours on widebody aircraft have fallen by 40% compared with expectations – including a 90% fall in April. Rolls-Royce expects to deliver just 250 widebody aircraft engines this year, compared with its previous estimate of 450, following cuts in production rates by Airbus and Boeing. Maintenance, repair and overhaul volumes will be markedly lower.
The First Minister has promised a cross-party approach to dealing with the jobs crisis which means there will be the usual task force, a promise of re-training for anyone unwilling or unable to take voluntary redundancy, and no doubt a bit of money to ease the community’s pain.
We’ve been here before, of course, but that doesn’t make it any easier to accept. Singer, Timex, Motorola…. just a few names that once dominated towns around Scotland, then disappeared. No one can be sure that Rolls-Royce will retain a presence in Renfrewshire or become the next ‘blue chip’ to book a one-way ticket out of town.
Ironically, the company is involved in the development of the NMIS project. It has stated that the jobs decision will have no bearing on its future involvement. Well, that’s the plan. Those engaged in creating the institute were triumphant after last week’s double announcement, and raring to go. Rolls-Royce’s news just reminded them of the size of the challenge.