Transport Secretary Mark Harper has written to his opposite number to ‘correct her’ on points she made in a letter to him regarding jobs at risk at Hitachi.

Shadow cabinet member Louise Haigh called for action to safeguard train manufacturing plants in Newton Aycliffe and Alstom in Derbyshire after bosses warned work was drying up.

The Northern Echo is also campaigning for a swift resolution to protect the livelihoods of 750 staff as well as 1,400 connected jobs in the North East.

The campaign is backed by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer who said the Government should ‘roll up its sleeves’ to find a solution.

Last week Ms Haigh said: “The Secretary of State has it in his power to vary their contracts and commission the necessary orders.

"When is he going to do it and protect these jobs?”

Mr Harper did not respond to a request for comment from the Northern Echo but he did write an open letter to the Shadow Transport Secretary.

The Northern Echo: Mark Harper MPMark Harper MP (Image: PA)In his letter, published on X, formerly Twitter, he said: “Some of the things you have said on this aren’t right and, given how important this issue is, I want to explain why that is.

“In particular, the erroneous suggestion that there is a simple solution to complex matters involving multiple parties.

“In most cases rolling stock procurements are carried out by train operators, who lease their train fleets through rolling stock owning companies.

“Ministers don’t buy trains directly nor do we have the ability to directly vary contracts, as you have suggested.”

Hitachi is currently working on its last trains for Avanti West Coast and East Midlands Railway.

The Japanese firm has said contracts to make more trains for the West Coast Mainline are the only viable way to plug the looming production gap.

Mr Harper said: “All contracts need to be assessed thoroughly to demonstrate a business need for the trains and comply with the law.

“Train manufacturing is a competitive, commercial market which means there can be no guarantee of orders for individual manufacturers, and they need to factor this into their business planning and bidding decisions.

“I am very aware of the challenges facing Alstom, Hitachi and their supply chains.

“Both companies face a short-term shortage of work before the work on HS2 rolling stock commences, for which they are a joint venture.”

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Meanwhile, union leaders have renewed urgent calls for help to secure thousands of jobs at the Alstom site after production lines have been stopped because of a lack of orders.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “Unite will not stand by while the Government puts thousands of jobs at risk.

“There is a huge amount of work that Alstom could and should be bidding for, but the Government are simply not tendering for it and do not seem to care.

“Alstom and the Government now need to stop endlessly procrastinating and just get on and sign the contracts to ensure the security of thousands of highly skilled workers.

“If their inaction does lead to job cuts, the responsible people will be held to account personally.”

The Northern Echo:

The Northern Echo: Louise Haigh MPLouise Haigh MP (Image: PA)In response to the announcement regarding Alstom, Louise Haigh said: “The Transport Secretary has had months to find a solution to prevent these job losses.

“It is clear he has failed to treat this situation with the urgency it deserves and has questions to answer on why he has failed to deliver on agreements to act to plug gaps in order schedules.

“Our rail industry needs certainty, stability and leadership; under this Conservative Government it has had none of these things, and avoidable job losses are the result.

“Britain was the country that created the railways, but that legacy is being trashed by a Conservative Government that is content to oversee its managed decline.”

Here is Mr Harper's letter in full 

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