HC Deb 25 January 1982 vol 16 cc610-1
20. Mr. Brotherton

asked the Secretary of State for Industry what progress has been made in improving the productivity of British Shipbuilders.

Mr. Wakeham

Between 1979–80 and 1980–81 productivity in merchant yards rose by 15 per cent. as measured by compensated gross registered tons per man-year. However, overall levels of productivity are still not satisfactory, and British Shipbuilders is determined to make further improvements.

Mr. Brotherton

Does my hon. Friend agree that the progress made so far is most welcome? How does he foresee productivity in British Shipbuilders over the next two years and does he believe that BS will then be able to compete effectively in world markets?

Mr. Wakeham

Improvements in productivity are mainly a question for the chairman and the board, but the chairman has made it clear to all who work in BS that substantially improved productivity is vital to the corporation's success. Each yard has a productivity improvement plan, monitored at board level against specific targets. A special productivity team has been set up to attack specific productivity problems and its remit has been extended recently. British Shipbuilders is also considering what can be done with the introduction of computer graphics and advanced production techniques. Almost all companies already have productivity incentive schemes in operation and their effectiveness is being reviewed. New schemes are being introduced for the few remaining companies.

Dr. John Cunningham

Is not the Minister being just a little churlish? Have not the unions and the management made major advances in productivity, getting rid of all sorts of demarcation disputes in the process? Will the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that BS often delivers ships ahead of schedule? I remind him that just before Christmas a foreign buyer sent a telex to British Shipbuilders congratulating it on the quality of the work, which exceeded his highest expectations and compares most favourably with the other vessels in the fleet which, incidentally, were built in other countries. That came from the purchaser of the "El Challenger" to the men and management of Austin and Pickersgill Ltd. Surely that is the sort of thing that the Government should praise and encourage.

Mr. Wakeham

I am happy to associate myself with those remarks. There has been an improvement in productivity in which the trade unions have played a large part. However, there is still a long way to go and productivity must rise way above the levels that were reached before nationalisation, in the days of private enterprise, if the industry is to be successful.

Mr. Grylls

The Labour Government entered into a rather scandalous deal for Polish ships. Does my hon. Friend expect losses to increase because of the situation in Poland and a reduction in charter income?

Mr. Wakeham

I have no reason to think so.