The Northern Echo is campaigning to Keep Hitachi on Track. It's going to be one of the first issues facing the North East Mayor when they are elected in just a few weeks time. We have asked all six candidates to explain their position on train building ahead of the 200th anniversary of the Stockton Darlington Railway. In the second of a six-part series, Independent candidate Jamie Driscoll says: 

Yet again North East jobs are at risk because of political decisions taken in London. Hitachi Rail in Newton Aycliffe is a world-class manufacturing facility.

“These aren’t just jobs, they’re careers,” Stacey Ord told me on Friday. She’s worked there for eight years, and the company trained her. “I never imagined I’d be doing a job like this.”

There’s a real sense of pride in the workforce. Stacey told me she was out walking with her 9 year old son, when a train went past. He asked, “Mammy, did you help build that train?” She did.

I was at the Hitachi plant on Friday, the latest in a series of meetings I’ve had with Hitachi management and Unite the Union, who represent the workforce. There’s complete unity in what needs to happen.

First of all, let’s be clear. Hitachi is a successful and profitable plant. It has orders up to 2033. But Government delay means there’s a gap in work starting next year.The Northern Echo: Rachel Reeves Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer at Hitachi

I’m an engineer by profession. I know you can’t simply turn a factory on and off like a light. The supply chain needs notice to manufacture components. Highly skilled workers who have taken years to train will inevitably find work elsewhere to pay their bills. There’s a risk of damaging Britain’s core manufacturing capacity, making us dependent on imports.

The thing is, there is an order waiting to go. Rail operator First Group want to buy 29 sets of ten-car trains. Enough work to keep the factory buzzing. The private finance is in place to buy the trains. The whole procurement process was taken years ago – this is not even a new order, just an option to a current order.

So what’s the problem? Central Government. Because of the way rail companies are funded, everything needs approval from the Department for Transport. And for reasons that have not been published, the Secretary of State for Transport has so far declined to give approval.

The Northern Echo: Rachel Reeves Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer at Hitachi

I’ve been communicating with Mark Harper, the current Transport Secretary, to unlock the First Group order. No doubt it will be buried in legal advice and DfT reports. This is where a regional Mayor can cut through.

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I’ve negotiated with Westminster before, in my current role as North of Tyne Mayor. We’ve landed England’s best funded devolution deal. But after I’d persuaded them to offer us transport investment, they tried to stop the Tyne & Wear Metro funding – £54 million a year. I pushed back.

I told then Transport Secretary Grant Shapps that Manchester and Birmingham commute on the Network Rail system that’s funded centrally. Why should the North East lose out because we have a Metro instead? He was persuaded. I followed up with Treasury ministers, and got us the £54 million a year.

Now, it feels like the current Government has already left the building. But I’ll be pushing, in partnership with Hitachi and Unite, so Hitachi is still building trains when Stacey’s little boy has grown up and is talking to his son.