Rt Hon Nick Brown MP – Eulogy for Jaap Kroese Memorial Service – 28/1/16
On my own behalf, but also on behalf of the public life of the community of Wallsend and East Newcastle, I want to pay tribute to a great man and to acknowledge the impact he had on the lives of thousands of local people, his friends, his neighbours, his employees.
In the mid 1990’s the Government starved Swan Hunters Shipyard of work, forcing the business into receivership. When HMS Richmond left the Tyne, fault-free, on time and to budget, the workforce marched up the bank and held a rally.
It was a very bleak time.
We all wanted to find a way forward for the yard, out of receivership. Every possibility was being explored.
Just as everything seemed lost, a very practical man stepped forward with a practical plan and a customer who had confidence in him.
The project was The Solitaire, the customer was Heerema, and the owner/manager was Jaap Kroese. He brought Swan Hunters out of receivership. He brought the Solitaire project into the Tyne. He brought the Wallsend yard back to life.
He brought to the task the qualities for which he was to become renowned. He was a hard-headed businessman, focussed on the practical, paying attention to detail and with the energy, strength of character and personal determination to see a project through.
Commercially it was a big step for him to undertake. He had given it careful thought. He knew he could make the project work in a very competitive, private sector business environment. In doing so he had an impact on the lives of many thousands of local people.
Utterly determined and committed to the new venture, he was on top of it from the very beginning, literally, in that he cleaned out the previous Director’s office suite and converted it into his flat where he lived on top of the job.
He took a detailed and determined interest in what was happening in his shipyard, uncovering informal rest areas, cabins and hideaways which had cropped up in earlier years. He pulled them all down and I remember him saying to me, expressing wry astonishment that they were there in the first place, “If I pay them to build ships we can make it, if I pay them to play cards we won’t.”
And if any man had the necessary ambition, the courage, the hard work, the determination, it was Jaap. He would not be thwarted.
Was he an easy man to deal with? In every way.
He was charming and interested in what was going on in the wider world. Always trying to help with community projects. He had strong views on the industry’s future and progressive ones on training and apprenticeships.
He would be genial, open, constructive and easy-going until you got down to business. Commercially he was as tough as old boots. He was shrewd and stubborn. There was a practical, intellectual rigour to Jaap which was impressive and wholly admirable.
We were all trying to do the same thing – save the employment base of our community and so we ended up getting to know each other well. However without Jaap the rest of us would not have had a chance of extending Tyneside’s shipbuilding story.
The local authority recognised this when they awarded Jaap the Freedom of North Tyneside. In modern times, no single individual has made such a positive impact on the local labour market and household incomes. He gave us another chance and the business a further lease of life.
He stood with us, not over us. Our fight was his fight too. And he did it all with considerable flare.
The formal launch of the Solitaire was accompanied by the largest drums ever seen on Tyneside. The launch was my very first public engagement as a Minister on behalf of the newly elected government in 1997.
A few years later Jaap arranged for the launch dinner for the Royal Navy’s new assault vessel to be held on the ship herself. Proud of everything that his shipyard could achieve and determined to make sure that the rest of the world knew it.
There were times when Jaap seemed more like a force of nature than a businessman. He seemed indestructible.
At the heart of everything he did was his family – Nancy, Renie, Gerrard and Stephen, six grandchildren.
On behalf of our whole community I extend our sympathy to you.
We, Jaap’s several thousand strong extended family, join with you and your grief and share your sense of loss.
We are all mortal, but Jaap’s spirit is indestructible. It survives in our determination to keep employment on the north banks of the Tyne and to build an industrial future for our community.