The Prime Minister has been accused of not doing enough to address the impending crisis at Hitachi which could see hundreds of jobs lost and the factory closed for good.

On Tuesday, Rishi Sunak told The Northern Echo he 'sympathised' with what is an 'anxious’ time for workers at the Newton Aycliffe train builder but hinted future orders across the UK would be available in the future.

He also said the Government would have 'all the dialogue we can with Hitachi about the future upcoming orders'

But in response, the PM was warned his 'sympathy isn't enough' and his comments did nothing to address the problems facing the company, which employs 750 workers and supports around 1,500 more in the supply chain.

Mr Sunak confirmed a number of contracts would be available - including work for Chiltern and South Eastern - but insiders claim, even if Hitachi were to secure these contracts, it would be years before this work could begin.

The Echo understands work could run out at the Newton Aycliffe factory before the end of the year - meaning a much more immediate solution is needed.

Labour's North East mayoral candidate Kim McGuinness and former Sedgefield MP Phil Wilson criticised the Government for "hiding" behind legal objections when they could be finding a solution.

But Paul Howell, Mr Wilson's successor, defended the efforts of the Government to find a resolution to the looming crisis.

The factory, which opened in 2015, is currently 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.

The Echo campaigned ten years ago to bring the factory to the region, and are now 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.

Our campaign has already received crucial backing from numerous politicians, business leaders and unions in the region, including Labour party leader Sir Keir Starmer.

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".

Last year, Mr Sunak celebrated Hitachi’s factory as a "fantastic example of world class manufacturing" in the North East but yesterday he offered little support for them.

The Northern Echo: Rishi Sunak

Speaking on Tuesday, the Prime Minister said: "I know it will be an anxious time for people at the factory but also in the supply chain as you said.

"I want them to know there is a strong order book more generally for rail manufacturing in the UK because of all the extra investment we are putting into transport, not least in Teesside and the North East.

"The department for transport is in close dialogue with Hitachi. There is a limit to what I can say about commercially sensitive conversations.

"There are upcoming contracts for a few different rail companies, Chiltern and South Eastern from memory and a couple of others.

"There are orders that are coming down the line.

"It’s hard for me to comment on one individual order but we want to make sure that we support rail manufacturing in the UK, it’s really important.

"As part of our levelling up agenda to invest more in local transport one of the things we have done, as a result of the decision on HS2, is to provide considerably more funding for Ben (Houchen) to invest in the local community here on the types of transport that people really want and value and I think that’s something that has been warmly welcomed.

"We are continuing with levelling up, particularly in transport, and making sure we have all the dialogue we can with Hitachi about the future upcoming orders.

"One thing that is worth pointing out as well is that it was the Labour authorities in the North East which didn’t award Hitachi any Metro contracts."

The Northern Echo: Rishi Sunak oils the wheels

Roger Ford, Industry and Technology Editor at the Modern Railways magazine, believes that the situation Hitachi is in looks "bleak".

He said: "Those contracts are a long way away and there is no guarantee that Hitachi will get them.

"It would take three years for them to kick in anyway.

"There is no immediate work. It is pretty bleak.

"The Transport Secretary Mark Harper put out a letter on Twitter and he says quite clearly that it is not easy.

"There are contractual things to go through. There is not a lot the Government can do about it.

"I calculate that Hitachi have enough work for another year at most."

The Northern Echo: Paul Howell, Sedgefield MP

Paul Howell, Conservative MP for Sedgefield, has been speaking to the Transport Secretary and Union Officers to resolve the crisis.

He said: "The comments from the Prime Minister confirm what I have said already that the Government is fully engaged in looking for all opportunities to support Hitachi and other UK based rolling stock suppliers.

"I continue to engage directly with the Secretary of State Mark Harper and his team and I’m visiting the Aycliffe plant again today to meet with Union Officers.

"It’s important that everyone engages positively to deliver the best opportunity to resolve the current concerns."

Kim McGuinness, Labour's candidate for North East mayor, has emphasised how she believes the solution is "easy" and that the Government has "given up on Durham".

She said: "Rishi Sunak knows he can save jobs in Durham with one phone call to his Transport Secretary. Hitachi simply needs it's contract to be extended, all Government has to do is commit to the workers of county Durham and sign on the dotted line so they can continue production. That's it. It's that easy.

"It seems government are hiding behind legal objections that might nor even come and passing the buck to anyone they can blame but their own negligence. But it's clear that whatever the reason for failing to protect these jobs, the Government has simply given up on Durham.

"750 skilled people working at Hitachi right now need the Transport Secretary to act to save their jobs, another 1,400 jobs rely on these being secured and the future of the British rail industry now hangs on the balance on this government's watch. I'll continue to fight for these jobs and lobby Ministers to stand by our North East. Where the Tories fail to act, Labour will."

The Northern Echo:

Keir Starmer, the leader of the Labour Party, has thrown his backing behind our campaign and has urged the Government to "roll up its sleeves" and help.

Sir Keir said he did not accept reports that the Government was unable to help because it was concerned about potential legal action from other train manufacturing firms.

Speaking earlier to The Northern Echo he said: "I am very concerned about the situation at Hitachi.

"I have been there and seen for myself the production, and the pride the workforce has in what they are doing.

"I have spent time in the region with other supply chains that are feeding into part of that enterprise so I am very concerned about the issue of the productivity gap.

"It is so important that The Northern Echo is campaigning for it."

Phil Wilson, former Labour MP for Sedgefield, who played a major role in the original campaign to bring Hitachi to Newton Aycliffe has hit out at the PM's statement.

He said: "It's okay for Rishi Sunak to offer his sympathies to the workers but it isn't enough.

"We could be in a the position where the plants in Alstom and Newton Aycliffe close and the rolling stock for HS2 is made in France or Japan.

Don't miss out on the latest news and stories. Subscribe to the Northern Echo for just £2 for 2 months, click here

Read more

Rishi Sunak sympathises with 'anxious' Newton Aycliffe Hitachi

Northern Echo calls on Rishi Sunak to act and secure Aycliffe Hitachi

Keir Starmer backs Northern Echo campaign to save Hitachi from closure

"How is that levelling up? This is a key strategic industry. If the Government wanted to find a solution they would."

Peter Gibson, Conservative MP for Darlington, said: "I know that Government is aware of the situation at Hitachi which was addressed extensively in the Transport Secretary's letter of last Friday.

"I know that Paul Howell the constituency MP is continuing to engage with Ministers, the company and the unions."