Two former Conservative cabinet ministers have warned allowing Hitachi to close would be ‘the ultimate own goal’ for the Government as pressure mounts on the Prime Minister to step in and save the factory from closing.

Writing exclusively for The Northern Echo, former Transport Secretaries Justine Greening and Patrick McLoughlin accused Rishi Sunak of ‘ditching long term plans when the going gets tough’, adding the Newton Aycliffe factory was ‘a success story we cannot let disappear’.

More than 700 jobs are at risk at the factory with work due to run out in the coming months. Hitachi has revealed that talks with the Government have ‘not reached a positive conclusion’.

Ms Greening was Transport Secretary when it was confirmed that the Hitachi factory would be coming to Newton Aycliffe in 2011, whilst Mr McLoughlin held the same position in 2015 when the site opened. He is now Chair of the Transport for the North Board.

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 a vital contract to secure its future.

Both former ministers have added their voices to the campaign joining numerous politicians, business leaders and unions in the region, including Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer.

Real concerns have been growing since Hitachi bosses revealed last month they 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.

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.

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.

Both former ministers highlight the strategic importance of long-term rail capacity and retaining the skilled workers of the factory.

They are calling on the Prime Minister to “protect the progress we’ve already made, understanding this is a moment to decide we must prevent taking an unnecessary step back”.

Ms Greening was Transport Secretary when Hitachi was brought to Newton Aycliffe and it was during Patrick McLoughlin’s tenure that the plant was developed and built.

Read the full statement from the former Transport Secretaries by clicking here

This comes just days after Rishi Sunak expressed his sympathy for workers at the factory but failed to provide a solution.

Mr Sunak previously said: "I know it will be an anxious time for people at the factory but also in the supply chain...

"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."

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.

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.

Kim McGuinness, Labour's candidate for North East mayor, called on the PM to listen to the mounting calls to step in and extend the existing contract.

She said: "Even those who once sat at the Tory top table are telling this Government to step in and save these jobs.

"How many voices have to sound the alarm before the Prime Minister wakes up and does the right thing?

"I met with Hitachi staff today, they are fighting for their livelihood and they know what is needed to keep 750 Durham workers in a job at Hitachi and 1,400 more posts linked to this factory.

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"The Government simply has to extend the existing contract and bring further work to Durham.

"The calls on the PM to act are mounting. Save these jobs."

A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “Rail manufacturing plays an important role in growing the UK economy, supporting British jobs, and delivering better services for passengers.

"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.

"More recently, new long distance trains have been procured on LNER and the tender process for new trains on TransPennine Express is live for all manufacturers to bid for."

The Northern Echo has contacted Rishi Sunak for comment.