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Sat, 24 October 2020

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Our new blue passports will be produced in Poland — we must bring the contract back to the UK

Our new blue passports will be produced in Poland — we must bring the contract back to the UK

We must act with immediacy not just to protect good local jobs, but to safeguard our economy and strengthen our place in a rapidly changing world. The staff of De La Rue Gateshead deserve no less, says Liz Twist MP | Credit: PA Images

4 min read

While some people celebrate a return to a blue passport, staff in Gateshead mourn the loss of skilled, quality jobs.

Next year marks 200 years since the pioneering printer, Thomas de la Rue, set up his first printing press in England. The company innovated and grew throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, with a number of plants in operation across the country and the largest printer of currency in the world.

De La Rue plc was, and is, a global brand, and their workers have been trusted by governments around the world and here at home to print their cash and produce their identity documents, including passports.

The company is now facing difficult times.

The UK government’s decision in 2018 to award the contract for producing UK passports to the French-Dutch firm Gemalto meant the loss of 200 jobs from the site, with the remaining 80 on the passport production line set to go this month.

Then in 2019 a further 170 jobs were lost at the Team Valley facility, as one of two banknote production lines closed.

And last week, De La Rue announced its proposal to cease banknote production at the Team Valley site with the loss of 255 jobs, leaving just 90 at the site.

I heard the news in the local press. The site works shifts, so many of the staff would have heard the news about their jobs in the press or second hand.

As passport production at the Team Valley site stops and those last 80 jobs on the passport line go, our new blue passports will, with no irony spared, be produced in Poland and finished at a site operated by Gemalto in the north west.

While some people celebrate a return to a blue passport, staff in Gateshead mourn the loss of skilled, quality jobs.

The Government says it wants to “level-up” the North of England, so it must take practical and decisive action to keep these jobs and to secure more of them

I don’t absolve De La Rue’s senior management at that time of getting the price wrong – but my concern is for the staff who worked so hard, and with great pride, to produce a secure, quality, passport for Great Britain. There is a direct line between the loss of that contract and the job losses at the site today.

Today I have an adjournment debate on the government response to job losses at the De La Rue site in Gateshead.  I want to know what the government is going to do to ensure that jobs like these are retained in the North East – we simply can’t afford to lose them.

These highly-skilled, well-paid jobs will help stimulate our regional economy. We need sustainable jobs. The Government says it wants to “level-up” the North of England, so it must take practical and decisive action to keep these jobs and to secure more of them.

Empty words mean nothing to people in my constituency, and I urge the government to act now

Behind those numbers are individuals, families and livelihoods. With the loss of these jobs comes a loss of security, safety, hope and aspiration. Many will be shaken and shattered by this news, and those affected will be emerging from the current pandemic even more uncertain about their futures. I join Unite, the staff’s trade union in calling for the company to reverse its plans and maintain production at its Gateshead site.

In 2018 and 2019, the previous management of De La Rue told staff at Gateshead that they would work to bring new work to the site, that the site was important to the company. These promises were not delivered.

Empty words mean nothing to people in my constituency, and I urge the government to act now. It can start by ensuring De La Rue’s site is maintained, and that the contract to produce passports is returned to the UK as a matter of urgency.

We must act with immediacy not just to protect good local jobs, but to safeguard our economy and strengthen our place in a rapidly changing world. The staff of De La Rue Gateshead deserve no less.

 

Liz Twist is Labour MP for Blaydon

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