The Northern Echo is today urging the Government to step in and help Hitachi by extending a vital contract to secure the future of its Newton Aycliffe plant.

Business leaders, unions and politicians are backing the call, as hundreds of jobs are at risk with the company’s order books running dry.

We campaigned ten years ago to bring the factory to the region, and today are urging the Government to keep it on track by extending the company’s contract - or do everything in its power to find other orders to plug the gap.

Real concerns have been growing since Hitachi bosses revealed at the weekend that it had failed to reach an agreement with the Government to keep their order books full. The factory keeps 750 people in work on-site, alongside another 1,400 jobs indirectly.The Northern Echo:

Last year, Rishi Sunak hailed Hitachi’s Newton Aycliffe factory as a ‘fantastic example of world class manufacturing’ in the North East.

Twelve months on, the firm is on the brink and fighting for support to stop them reaching the end of the line.

Bosses at Hitachi said they have been in talks for two years in an attempt to find a solution, but this had "not resulted in a positive resolution".

The factory, which opened in 2015, is making its final trains for Avanti West Coast and East Midlands Railway.

Ministers have told Hitachi they had no plans to order more trains to run on the West Coast mainline, which the firm saw as the only viable way to plug the production gap.

John McCabe, chief executive at the North East Chamber of Commerce, said: “We’re aware of the uncertainty currently facing Hitachi’s site in Newton Aycliffe. This is deeply concerning as there are so many good quality, well-paid jobs at the site and in the local supply chain.

“Major investors such as Hitachi require long term certainty in order to retain confidence, and the government needs to ensure it is doing all it can to prevent the loss of such a vital industry in the North East.

“Hitachi Rail is exploring all options, we hope the government will do the same to ensure a positive outcome.”

With developments moving quickly, Unite union leaders travelled at short notice to London yesterday (Tuesday, March 26) to press their case for the Government to tender the extension of the West Coast contract to Hitachi immediately.The Northern Echo: Unite leaders meet with MPs in LondonUnite leaders meet with MPs in London (Image: Contributor)

A delegation, hosted by Easington MP Grahame Morris, met with several MPs including Sedgefield MP Paul Howell, whose constituency includes the Newton Aycliffe plant.

Mr Morris urged the Government to “cut through the red tape and accelerate the tender process and let's get some work into these factories”.

Speaking to The Northern Echo, he said: “We’ve got skilled workers. I have met the union reps today and they’ve agreed on all sorts of changes in working practices – so that when the orders come they have banked those hours so they can step up production.

“They need a decision now. They are running out of work now.

“What has been relayed to me by Paul Howell and the union leaders is that the Government is saying quite assertively that they are fearful of a legal challenge.The Northern Echo: Sedgefield MP Paul Howell and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at Hitachi in January 2023Sedgefield MP Paul Howell and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at Hitachi in January 2023 (Image: Northern Echo)

“Well they weren’t fearful of a legal challenge over the Waspis to implement the findings of the Parliamentary Ombudsman.

“There are dozens of occasions the government has taken on legal challenges. That’s not the reason not to do something.”

He added: “It’s so important. And particularly if they have any commitment to levelling up and preserving skilled manufacturing jobs. Because if we can get over the hiatus the future is bright. We just need to get over the next two years. I would urge the Government to think again.

“I’m not interested in scoring political points, but it’s a critical time. We don’t have the luxury of sitting on the fence, because trains are still going to be manufactured. The question is do we want them manufactured in the UK or manufactured abroad?”The Northern Echo:

 Unite regional officer Pat McCourt said after the meeting: “Unite reps from Hitachi in Newton Aycliffe travelled to Parliament yesterday to meet with MPs and reiterate their message to Government.

“Ministers must prove their statements on levelling up in the North East are more than just hot air by getting the contract extension signed off immediately and safeguarding jobs.”

Mr Howell said: “I was pleased to meet the Unite team today and look to do all I can to support them.

“My request to Government is that if this is insurmountable as a legal hurdle, then to continue to make all efforts to find other potential orders to deliver opportunities to fill the looming order gap.”

Writing in The Northern Echo today, his predecessor Phil Wilson said: “Hitachi Rail has negotiated with the Government for two years to secure a variation to an existing order to keep their Newton Aycliffe factory open until the HS2 rolling stock contract, which Hitachi won, comes into play later this decade.

“Instead, the Government has sat on its hands, keeps putting off decisions, replacing one deadline with another, and then refuses to help.

The Northern Echo: Former Sedgefield MP Paul Howell Former Sedgefield MP Paul Howell (Image: Contributor)

“After all our hard work in bringing Hitachi to Aycliffe, I can understand the anger in the local community too. Up to 700 jobs are at risk, with many more in the supply change.

"Nothing more sums up the government’s vision for the North East that the image of a modern train manufacturer threatened with job losses and even closure, situated right next to where George Stephenson started the passenger railway revolution and where the world’s first train station now stands dilapidated.

Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen said: “I warned of this situation four years ago when the Labour run North East Council’s decided to overlook locally based Hitachi in favour of a Swiss firm. It was the wrong decision and one we are seeing the effects of on local jobs.

“I back this campaign and we need to do all we can to support the fantastic work force at Hitachi. Government need to look carefully at what work can be put their way to see them through to their next big contract which has already been awarded.

The Northern Echo: Hitachi's Newton Aycliffe plant

“This situation was entirely avoidable and is a lesson in why local authorities should do what we are by backing local first.”

Henri Murison, Chief Executive of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, said “Long-term planning and fairness is essential to avoiding feast and famine in the rail supply chain.

“Although it is a major employer in the North East, Hitachi has not called for special treatment. Procurement decisions should be based solely on the basis of who is the best supplier for the job to ensure a level playing field for all businesses.

“What is needed now more than ever is a strategy for procurement and maintenance, giving everyone a chance to better plan ahead, bid and competitively win their fair share.

“With a proper strategy in place, there should definitely be enough work to keep UK supply chains busy investing, innovating, manufacturing and sustaining local jobs.”

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A spokesperson for Hitachi said in a statement: “We have been engaged in discussions at all levels of UK government for two years, in an attempt to find a solution to the production gap at our Newton Aycliffe manufacturing facility.

“Disappointingly these discussions have not resulted in a positive resolution.

"We are now reviewing all remaining options available to us in order to keep our manufacturing teams building rolling stock to support the UK rail industry.”

The Department for Transport said previously: “The Government is committed to supporting the entire sector and is working with all rolling stock manufacturers, including Hitachi, on the future pipeline of orders which we expect to remain strong in the coming years.”