Labour’s shadow Cabinet Office minister Rachel Reeves hopes the reopening of Appledore Shipyard signals a bright future for the next generation.

Ms Reeves met with trade union representatives ahead of her appearance at Appledore Drive-in Book Festival on Friday (September 18) to discuss the reopening of the shipyard and how the coronavirus pandemic has affected jobs in North Devon.

The Leeds West MP met with representatives from GMB and Unite, who laid out their hopes for the future of the shipyard, which was acquired by Harland and Wolff owner Infrastrata last month.

She said: “Right now we’re facing a torrid time for jobs particularly in Devon and the South West with coronavirus. It’s a reminder that we need to build our economy on top of strong foundations.

“Traditionally there have been high-skilled, high-paid, secure jobs at the shipyard and in other manufacturing jobs, but many have been lost in the region, and a Labour government is determined to rebuild that sector.

“We’ve seen during this crisis that our failure to invest in manufacturing and textiles meant that the sixth-richest country in the world wasn’t able to produce the PPE that those on the frontline needed.

“Similarly we need to ensure we have a capability and capacity to build ships in this country, and that means investing in skills and investing in manufacturing sector including here in Appledore.

“It’s really important that peoples’ skills aren’t being laid to waste and that we’re not failing to invest in the next generation and that means ensuring there are good quality jobs with security for the future.

“That’s what I’ve been saying to the reps I’ve been speaking to today and that’s the sort of future that Labour want to see in Appledore and other places as well.”

Ms Reeves also called on the Government to be more flexible with the furlough scheme, which is set to end in October, to help protect the economy in places such as North Devon.

She said: “This is one of the most beautiful parts of the country and a lot of tourists come here, but it has been a challenge.

“We’re now looking at potential further lockdown restrictions coming in and people in the hotel sector and restaurants and bars are very worried about the future.

“We’re worried that come the end of October when the furlough scheme comes to an end that certain sectors of the economy are going to struggle and as a result we’re going to see job losses increase further.

“We think the Government needs to be more flexible with that furlough support scheme to ensure that we’re not looking down the barrel of mass unemployment.”

Ms Reeves was talking to the Gazette ahead of her appearance at Appledore Book Festival, where she was set to discuss her 2019 book Women of Westminster: The MPs who changed politics with North Devon MP Selaine Saxby.

The book celebrates the inspirational achievements of women in parliament over the course of the last 100 years.

Ms Reeves said: “It’s absolutely brilliant that Appledore have managed to find a way to make this festival work. Looking on social media this morning about some of the events that have taken place, it looks like it’s going really well so I’m really looking forward to speaking.

“There’s been huge change in the last 100 years. 100 years ago there was just one woman in parliament, when I was born just over 40 years ago there were 19 women in parliament and today there are 220 of us, so we’ve seen huge change in the last century and in my lifetime.

“But there are still twice as many men in parliament as women and you can still feel that and see that in the chamber. Certainly during the coronavirus and the press conferences we saw it was a very male dominated affair.

“I think we get better decision making and more talent if you look beyond a narrow pool of white, upper-middle class men, so I hope more women will come through the political system.

“All parties pay lip service to it but we need more women right at the top of our politics.”