Keir Starmer and Rachel Reeves have called on the Government to bring forward procurement to save jobs at the Hitachi plant in Newton Aycliffe.

The Labour leader and Shadow Chancellor said Rishi Sunak should plan orders for new HS2 trains to plug a production gap at the Japanese train-making site.

The Department for Transport has previously said it was up to individual companies to make business decisions but there are reports Transport Secretary Mark Harper signed off a deal on Tuesday for Derby-based manufacturer Alstom.

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The Northern Echo: The future of the Hitachi plant is at risk The future of the Hitachi plant is at risk (Image: Northern Echo)

It is understood ten new trains will be built at its plant for the Elizabeth line on the London Underground, plugging a gap in orders which has put 3,000 jobs at risk.

Sir Keir, who is backing The Northern Echo’s campaign to save the Hitachi plant, said he was ‘deeply concerned’ for the future of the 750-strong workforce.

Speaking at Teesport today (Thursday, April 18) he said: “Having been to the Hitachi factory I know just how important it is, not just to the people who work there but for all of the other jobs that are dependent on it.”

He said his Shadow Chancellor had been tasked with coming up with alternative proposals for the plant.

Ms Reeves said: “We have said that the Government should bring forward procurement and also set out a clear timetable for the HS2 trains.

“Government working with Hitachi is how we can ensure that those jobs stay.

“That is what we would be doing if we were in Government today and that is what we are calling the Government to do right now.”

The Northern Echo: The factory opened in 2015The factory opened in 2015 (Image: Northern Echo)

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A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “The Transport Secretary held a constructive meeting with union representatives of the Hitachi workforce yesterday and we remain in close contact with the company to secure a sustainable future for rail manufacturing at Newton Aycliffe.

“Rail manufacturing plays an important role in growing the UK economy and delivering better services for passengers - we remain committed to supporting the entire sector on the future pipeline of orders which will be strong in the coming years.”

Senior Labour figures, including Shadow Energy Secretary Ed Miliband, were at Teesport to highlight plans to deliver the most significant upgrade of Britain's ports in a generation.

During the visit, they also said they will send in the National Audit Office to investigate the controversial Teesworks scheme if they win the next general election.

It follows the inquiry into the regeneration of the former steelworks site which was critical of the governance and transparency of the handling of the multi- million pound redevelopment.

The row erupted after Middlesbrough MP Andy McDonald made allegations of corruption in the House of Commons.

Mr Reeves said: “Michael Gove should have done what he was asked to do and that is call in the National Audit Office and that is what we think should happen.

“I know if I become Chancellor of the Exchequer later this year there is not going to be much money to go around and that is why it is even important that every pound of taxpayers’ money that is spent is spent wisely.

“When it is not we need to uncover that. I think it is right that the National Audit Office is brough in to investigate this. That is what we would do.”   

Ms Reeves was speaking in response to a specific question from the press pack  quizzing the Labour leadership on a range of issues  -but her response was described as ‘politicised persecution’ by Simon Clarke MP, the Conservative MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland.

He said: “This is so obviously a politically motivated attack on the Tees Valley Mayor, Ben Houchen, ahead of the mayoral election on May 2.

"We have a Tees Valley Mayor who has delivered on every promise - he saved the airport, is bringing back steelmaking, delivered the UK's first and largest successful Freeport.

“Meanwhile Labour will stop at nothing to prosecute their smear campaign against Ben and Teesworks, heedless of the damage to our local economy and local people’s jobs.”