Brave faces, but most knew the cuts had to come

Ian Herbert,North
Monday 21 April 2014 05:48

The Nightingale Road in Derby is a long way from the World Trade Centre, but the effects of the terrorist attacks will be felt in the city today at the Rolls-Royce plant.

At yesterday's monthly board meeting in London, the company's directors resigned themselves to making 6,000 jobs redundant ­ a consequence of the downturn in air travel that has followed the attacks. The company, which manufactures aircraft engines, draws about half of its income from commercial airlines.

Sir Ken Jackson, general secretary of the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union, urged the firm to "hold its nerve and not take short-term decisions on redundancies", but an apprehensive Derby was preparing for the worst.

A city always knows the writing is on the wall when local radio stations start broadcasting from its principal manufacturing plant. BBC Radio Derby's three-hour breakfast broadcast today from Rolls-Royce seems to confirm what people already expect: that most of the job cuts will be made in Derby, which employs 14,000 people, rather than at smaller sites in Bristol, Coventry and Scotland.

David Dobbs, 34, said: "Whenever there's talk of a downturn in the industry we flinch. The attacks on the Trade Centre were just amazing viewing at first, but slowly the consequences finally sank in."

Richard Fildes, a 54-year-old qualified engineer with 24 years of service, does not know yet if his position is one of the ones that will go. He is certainly versatile ­ he has already metamorphosed from an electrician to a land and building maintenance specialist ­ but that may not be enough to save his job. "There's a lot of clever people here. No ordinary production line stuff," he said, sitting on a wall outside the building in Nightingale Road. "Your Rolls man will earn, let's say, £20,000 or £30,000. They've never let people go before. It's all been natural wastage."

He was wrong. The Rolls-Royce group was already shedding 2,000 jobs a year before last November's announcement of 3,000 losses in a £150m restructuring. It is a world away from the day in 1908 when a cavalcade of vehicles, including a Silver Ghost, rolled up the road to mark the opening of the Derby works. Entire motor cars were designed, developed and manufactured at the factory until the Second World War.

Most assembly line workers brushed off questions gruffly yesterday ­ a clear indication that they know they are vulnerable. James Washbourne, a 27-year-old transmissions designer, said: "If I was in manufacturing I would be worried. It is more financially viable elsewhere."

A colleague, Brian Walsh, 24, said: "People are nervous. Industries go in circles. We are in a down spiral."

Kevin Andrews, a product business manager, said anxiety had been permeating the plant for four weeks. "We have known about this board meeting for weeks and see all the newspaper reports," he said. "Some will feel it hard."

The company's managers said they were keen to inform employees of any cutbacks, and a meeting with unions is planned for Monday. But Bob Morgan, swilling the dregs of his ale in the Nightingale Arms after finishing a shift in the paint hall, was expecting his job to go.

"This pub will go down too if they carry on like this," he said. "My job and my two pints have been there for me every day. They talk about the terrorist attacks, but what have the management done to stop this?"

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments