Sedgefield MP Paul Howell has intensified discussions with ministers, management and union leaders as Hitachi faces an order crisis. Writing for The Northern Echo, he says he'll do everything possible to support the future of the Newton Aycliffe factory. 

Paul Howell Hitachi is a business I am proud to have in my constituency, they are not only an iconic global brand but also a business founded in exceptional principles.

They have their employees at the heart of what they do. Having been brought up in Newton Aycliffe and being present at the 150th anniversary of the Stockton to Darlington railway I understand the significance of them being located in Newton Aycliffe.The Northern Echo:

The site was opened by David Cameron and has assembled trains since 2015, being built to deliver the Intercity express programme of trains which now run on the East Coast, Great Western and soon the West Coast Main Lines.

As Member of Parliament, I engaged with them within days of being elected to discuss the investment/redundancy programme of early 2019 when they evolved the facility from assembly to manufacture.

The ethos of the place was clear immediately as I met with both management and union leaders to understand the process and they were aligned in working to deliver the best outcome for all affected. The investment took place delivering future opportunities and evolved the business with minimal compulsory redundancies.The Northern Echo:

I have been in constant contact with the business since and was delighted to bring the Prime Minister to the site last year.

In order to understand their world better I transferred from the Business Select Committee to Transport where I gained a greater insight and developed relations with the Transport ministerial team.

This along with my regular engagement with Hitachi enabled me to understand the concerns they had and raise with ministers the issues arising. I was delighted when they secured the order for HS2 trains but frustrated that the pandemic created uncertainty over future rolling stock orders.

As part of the Transport Select Committee, I was able to join the Committee when we met Hitachi’s Japanese Management when we went to Japan as part of our inquiry on future transport.

In recent times as the concerns have increased, I have intensified my discussions with management and ministers and have been to the site to meet union representatives as well, to both assure them of my engagement and listen to their perspectives.The Northern Echo:

My interaction with the press and the public has always been guided by what was best for Hitachi and I regularly had to bite my tongue when opposition politicians went public with conversations that had been agreed should be kept private in Hitachi’s best interests.

I refused to get political and focused on what was in Hitachi’s best interests. I remain of the opinion that anything that can be done to help the site have orders to compete for will be done.

The recent proclamations by my opposition are disingenuous blatant politicking to try and secure favour from an electorate they are misleading. If there was a way to “just sign an order off” then I am absolutely convinced it would have been done. For Labour to say they would have done it is nothing short of scandalous, the comments have no intellectual foundation.

They have not received advice from the civil service and lawyers like Ministers and it is just something else they will flip flop on should they ever get the opportunity to hold power. If it could have been done as easily as they say, then it would have been done.

Recommended reading: 

Get more from The Northern Echo with a Premium Plus digital subscription from as little as only £1.50 a week. Click here

As the Secretary of State said in Parliament when I asked him last week, the Government is doing all it can to facilitate rolling stock orders to support Hitachi and I hope that these efforts deliver what is required.

I can assure people that if our current ministerial team can’t deliver then it can’t be done without falling into a legal morass from which nobody would win.

As I have done since being elected, I will continue to work with anyone and everyone to do everything possible to support the future of Hitachi or indeed any other business in my constituency, but I will not make things up and pretend that I can do things that cannot be done.