Blame game over Bombardier train job losses in Derby

Worker outside Bombardier factory Image copyright bbc
Image caption Job losses were announced at Bombardier in Derby - 1,400 workers will lose their jobs

The political recriminations have started over the big job losses at Britain's last train makers, Bombardier of Derby.

The Business Secretary Vince Cable was quick to pin the blame on the "narrow procurement rules" of the last Labour government.

You can also expect Euro sceptics to plough in and blame the EU's competition rules.

The ongoing row will be of little comfort to the 1,400 workforce at Bombardier in Derby that face the prospect of the dole.

Slippage of contracts

The £1.4bn contract for new trains on the Thameslink service went to Siemens of Germany, despite lobbying for the work to go to the UK's own train makers.

At issue is whether the UK government follows EU competition rules by the letter.

I'm already hearing comments about how the French and German governments ensure that significant contracts don't slip out of the hands of their domestic industries, while still sticking to EU rules.

The Business Secretary Vince Cable says he and the Transport Secretary Philip Hammond will be jointly pressing the Prime Minister on this issue:

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Business Secretary Vince Cable says he will be pressing the Prime Minister on the issue

"I want to investigate how future government procurement contracts can operate within European rules and at the same time, take account of British manufacturers and its supply chain," he told me.

"The former Labour government drew up very narrow tender terms for this contract which gave the current Transport Secretary clearly no choice in the matter."

Rebalancing the economy

The Bombardier job losses are a particular concern for one of Labour's former cabinet members, Margaret Beckett. Bombardier is a big employer in her Derby South constituency.

She now wants the awarding of the contract to Siemens to be reconsidered by the coalition government.

"This is a government talking about rebalancing the economy towards skilled manufacturing. Now all that's being lost at Bombardier. My genuine anxiety is that Bombardier will decide that there's no future for them in the United Kingdom."

But what about Vince Cable's criticism of the last Labour government in drawing up such "overtight rules" on awarding large contracts?

"I don't accept that. Since this government came to power, they've already reviewed one of the procurement contracts of the last government over Hitachi and rewritten it," Mrs Beckett told me.

"Let's say Vince Cable is right and that it was a badly designed procurement contract," she added.

"They keep telling us that they are putting right what we got wrong. Well, put this right."

Tough times

The government has set up a task force to help Bombardier and its workers through the difficult months ahead.

It's headed by Margaret Gildea, a senior director of Rolls Royce in Derby.

Any government backed guidance and assistance will be welcomed in this manufacturing city... but there's no substitute for a full order book.