There’s something special about the Hitachi rail plant in Newton Aycliffe that hits you as soon as you walk the shop floor.

You’re partly struck by the incredible quality and precision of the engineering going on around you. But what also strikes you is the incredible pride of the local residents who work there, building world-class, high-tech trains here on our doorstep.

That’s why there’s so much anger that the Government has spent two years dithering about whether to grant a simple contract extension that would guarantee the factory’s future. We’re now at crunch point. Because the Transport Secretary has failed to make the right decision, senior managers at Hitachi have had to warn the workforce there are only 12 months of manufacturing left. The future is now precarious.

What’s infuriating is it seems everyone saw this crisis coming, except the Government.

In mid-2023, the Rail Industry Association warned that “rail manufacturing jobs were in jeopardy, that skills and experience could be lost, and that there was a risk of factory closures unless urgent decisions were taken this year”.

Last year I wrote to the Transport Secretary raising these issues and asking for urgent action.

But decisions weren’t taken last year.

The Hitachi workers I met last week, on my fifth visit to the plant, said they simply couldn’t understand why the Government won’t do the right thing, nor why they’ve dragged their heels for so long.

All Hitachi have been asking for is an extension of the West Coast contract, which is trains they are already making. They have the machinery, the trained workers, the experience and the track record to deliver.

It is a no brainer.

That’s why Labour’s Shadow Transport Secretary Louise Haigh told The Northern Echo that if Labour were in government, she’d sign the paperwork and resolve this crisis with the stroke of a pen.

The Transport Secretary could put an end to this uncertainty, protecting the 700 employees at the factory and the 1,400 jobs in the supply chain. He needs to pull his finger out and get it done.

Unfortunately, the situation with Hitachi epitomises the catastrophic failure of levelling-up in County Durham. The promise to boost left-behind parts of the UK with the creation of world class jobs, opportunities and growth has not materialised five years after the flagship policy was announced.

Local Tories promised a £20m regeneration of Aycliffe town centre. Their own government rejected the bid.

The re-opening of Ferryhill station has been announced and re-announced several times. Not a brick has been laid. No surprise a recent cross-party report found that ‘levelling-up’ across the country has too often appeared to be warm words followed by no action.

But on Hitachi the Tories must do better. The idea that the Government would allow a world-class manufacturer with a strong future order book, but a short-term production gap, to go to the wall is unthinkable.

I am really proud of the workers building high-tech trains in my hometown. Let’s secure their future and the future of our fantastic rail industry.

  • Alan Strickland is the prospective Labour Parliamentary candidate for the new Newton Aycliffe & Spennymoor constituency