Jessica Morden (Newport East) (Lab): I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) for the opportunity to debate Welsh affairs today. I want to raise two issues relating to employment in my constituency.
However, let me begin by strongly agreeing with the excellent speech by my right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Paul Murphy) on the problem of legal highs, particularly in Gwent. That issue very much came home to me on Sunday, when I was with my kids in a corner of a park in Newport and saw dozens and dozens of empty legal-high packets of all shapes, sizes and colours, with enticing graphics on the front. As in my right hon. Friend’s constituency, premises in Newport were closed down; I believe they were part of the same operation. As a result, I went to a briefing by the team in Gwent police who are dealing with this issue and working extremely hard on it with the local authorities. When the Home Secretary came into post, she promised swift action on legal highs. However, as my right hon. Friend pointed out, it is an extremely difficult issue involving hundreds of different substances and thousands of different sellers. The legislation is out of date and we are playing catch-up. We need to give local authorities and the police the tools to do the job, not least because people have absolutely no idea what they taking, and we are very much storing up health problems for the future.
I want to talk about the economy in Newport. In recent times, we have heard much from the Government and their Welsh team about how things are improving in Wales, with the recovery under way and things getting easier. Of course, I welcome falls in unemployment in my constituency, although youth unemployment remains unacceptably high, but beneath those figures there is a different story. It is still the case that about 300,000 Welsh workers earned below the living wage in 2012. I would like to say a very big “Well done and congratulations” to Newport council for its decision last week to implement the living wage.
In Wales, we have seen the largest increase in the UK in the number of people who want to work more hours but cannot find them due to the Tories’ failed economic policies. Some 65,000 people are deemed to be under-employed in Wales. Only this morning, a young girl came into my office in Newport and talked about how hard it was for her family because her father’s hours had been reduced from 40 to 14. That is the reality for many people in my constituency.
In recent weeks, there has been bad news for employment in our city of Newport. First, there were the job losses at the Avana bakery—the Secretary of State has been involved with this—in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn). The bakery announced that it would possibly lose up to 650 jobs following the loss of a contract with Marks and Spencer. Secondly, we learned that there is a threat to public sector jobs at the Ministry of Justice shared services centre in Celtic Springs. Then, only this week, we heard the very hard news that 123 jobs are under threat at the Orb steel works, which has a long history of steelmaking in my constituency and is a subsidiary of Tata Steel. At the MOJ and Orb works, there are things that the Government could do to step in, and that is the focus of my remarks.
This week’s announcement that Tata Steel will be restructuring the work force at the Orb steelworks may lead to the loss of 83 direct jobs and 40 contractors’ jobs. That is really hard news for those workers—and their families—who have worked extremely flexibly over the past few years. These are skilled jobs that we can ill afford to lose from Wales. It is an extremely challenging time for the steel industry in Wales, and this announcement underlines that. Demand for steel is down, imports from outside Europe are up and steel manufacturers are being hit by higher energy costs. The price of electricity for steelmakers in the UK is about 38% higher than in France and 56% higher than in Germany. Those are massive differences and they are hitting our industries. UK producers also pay levies and taxes such as the carbon floor price and the renewables obligation, but German and French steelmakers—not to mention those outside Europe—are largely protected from those. The accumulative impact is that we are putting UK steelmakers at a competitive disadvantage, with customers seeing UK energy costs as a particular problem.
I know that the Government have accepted the arguments that high energy prices impact on UK manufacturers and that the most energy-intensive industries should be protected from rising green taxes. However, what has been done so far is not enough to mitigate those costs or reverse the manufacturers’ fortunes. In the Budget, the Government need to take more action on high energy costs, the carbon price floor and renewable obligations, which are hitting us really hard, particularly in Wales, at a time when demand for steel is down.
Albert Owen: My hon. Friend is making a very important point. The carbon price floor, which disadvantages this country, was brought in unilaterally in the past couple of years. We cannot blame Europe for that; it is down to this British Government.
Jessica Morden: I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention and I very much agree with him. I know that time is running out, but we need Wales Office Ministers urgently to press the Treasury on that matter in advance of the Budget.
The Government are also potentially to offshore Government jobs from the MOJ shared services centre in Newport. I am very reliant on the public sector in my constituency. People in the public sector have had their wages frozen and there has been a sustained attack on their numbers. In fact, in the recent Centre for City report, Newport came bottom for employment growth in the private sector.
Was it only in January that the Prime Minister said that we must become the “reshoring nation”? You would not think so, because only weeks later his Ministers are embarking on a path that could lead the MOJ shared services centre into a contract that will allow offshoring. The Newport office employs about 1,000 staff in back-office functions. The Cabinet Office and the MOJ want to privatise those jobs, and so far nothing has been said by Ministers to alleviate fears. In fact, the Justice Secretary told me:
“To be a competitive and viable business…needs to be in line with other companies of this kind, which often see non-customer facing transactional roles being sourced offshore. The creation and operation model…reflects government guidelines with off shoring being a feature of many successful public sector contracts.”
If the Prime Minister is so keen on private companies reshoring jobs, why is his Government so keen on offshoring Government jobs? The situation is ludicrous. Will Welsh Ministers tell the Cabinet Office and the Justice Secretary that, especially in the light of other job losses in Newport, these are good public sector jobs that we really need to keep in Newport?
To end on a positive note, the Welsh Government’s deal with Pinewood Studios to bring a new film studio to Newport is very welcome and a good boost to us locally, as is the Welsh Government’s setting up of the reNewport taskforce, which has recently come up with lots of innovative ideas for improving things in Newport. It has been warmly welcomed and has harnessed much local enthusiasm.
Last but not least, I welcome the announcement about the NATO summit in September. We are looking forward to that and I am also looking forward to working very closely with Wales Office Ministers to maximise its impact on the community and employers of Newport