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Bombardier’s Derby staff get reprieve

• Plant saved from immediate closure, preserving 1,600 jobs
• Rolls-Royce chief calls for change in UK attitude engineering

Britain’s last train factory has been saved from imminent closure, preserving 1,600 jobs at the Bombardier plant in Derby. The news came as the chief executive of Rolls-Royce warned that society pays excessive attention to investment bankers and should hold engineers in higher regard.

The Canadian group Bombardier told staff at Derby that the facility would stay open for the time being, though its long-term future was still contingent on winning further contracts.

The announcement is too late to save the 1,200 workers that have already lost their jobs since the government decision to select Germany’s Siemens over Bombardier as preferred bidder for the £1.4bn Thameslink trains contract.

Diana Holland, assistant general secretary of the Unite trade union, said: “Bombardier’s Derby workforce are highly skilled and make fantastic products. They’ve had a lot to endure over the past 12 months. Now at least there is some breathing space.”

The news came as John Rishton, the boss of Rolls-Royce, became the latest captain of industry to warn that UK manufacturing was hobbled by both a cultural as much as an economic deficit.

Rishton said Britain needed more engineering and science heroes akin to Brian Cox and Robert Winston – leading figures in physics and medicine respectively – to help rebalance the economy away from finance to manufacturing. Alluding to the popularity of films such as Oliver Stone’s epoch-defining Wall Street and best sellers including Too Big To Fail about the Lehman Brothers crash, Rishton said finance had been sucked into the cult of celebrity, leaving more worthy sectors in its slipstream.

Referring to investment bankers, the Rolls-Royce chief executive said: “We raise their profiles, we make films about them, kids talk about them in the same way we talk about celebrities. Engineers, we talk about them as if they repair cars.” However, Rishton acknowledged that banking had recently been attracting more notoriety than adulation, even if it remained a well-paid profession.

Urging the UK to focus on the important work of innovators of engineering, Rishton, an economist by academic background, added: “If you go to China, engineers that are making stuff and doing things are really, really important.” Rishton said Germany also held its engineers in higher regard. He added that comments last year made by Lord Sugar that engineers do not make good businesspeople were unhelpful..

Rishton welcomed the government’s call for a “march of the makers” to boost manufacturing’s share of GDP from 10%, but said the process would be a “long journey” that would require a concerted education strategy and focus on apprenticeships, as well as a cultural shift.

Referring to the emphasis on financial services during the Blair and Brown eras, he added: “When you have been heading in a direction for a long period of time, reversing that direction … is going to take a long period of time. In my view, this is a very long path.”

Rishton spoke as the Derby-based Rolls-Royce, whose dominant business is making engines for commercial aircraft operated by the likes of British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, reported a 4% rise in underlying revenues for last year to £11.2bn. Pre-tax profits rose by 21% to £1.1bn. Although civil aerospace is its biggest unit, Rolls-Royce also makes ship turbines, military jet engines and turbines for power stations. Rishton said all parts of the business were performing strongly, leaving the group “blessed and cursed with choice”. Its order book is worth £62.5bn. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds