January 9 2020 @ 17:50 by Steven Hugill
Up to 250 jobs are at risk in a North East trainbuilder restructure.
Hitachi Rail says it is moving to a new “core workforce model” at its factory in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, following the completion of a large contract.
Responding to the news, union officials slammed perceived Government failures for Hitachi’s predicament, claiming existing Downing Street contract policy means the trainbuilder has suffered at the expense of foreign rivals.
Hitachi, which employs around 700 people at its Newton Aycliffe base, bosses say the potential changes will make its North East plant “more flexible, agile and globally competitive…to win new train orders,” adding no final decision has been made on possible job cuts.
They dismissed claims the moves were linked to Brexit, adding the company remains committed to the UK.
Officials also revealed the firm will spend around £8.5 million on a new train welding and painting hub, which they say will turn Hitachi’s plant into a “full-scope manufacturing facility.”
According to Hitachi’s plans, the firm will restructure staffing numbers after the culmination of work on the Government’s £5.7 billion Intercity Express Programme, for which Hitachi has made rolling stock for Great Western and East Coast Mainline routes (pictured left).
Officials say staff numbers will be trimmed to “allow key projects to be delivered (and) provide the flexibility to be scaled up with staff on fixed-term contracts according to demand.”
Confirming the business was speaking to workers about the potential changes, Ross Nagle, chief operating officer for manufacturing, said: “New train fleets built by employees at Newton Aycliffe over the last four years are helping to transform Britain’s railway, of which we couldn’t be prouder.
“However, the cyclical nature of demand in the industry means the factory must be more flexible and agile to secure a long-term, sustainable future.
“We’re proud to be investing £8.5 million in new train welding and painting capabilities, making the factory more competitive and sustainable.
“It will allow us to complete the full scope of train manufacturing for our customers across a wider range of products, making us one of the most advanced train building factories in the UK.”
Ross added any workers affected by Hitachi’s proposals will be offered other opportunities across the business’ employment roster.
However, the Unite union says the Government must shoulder the blame for Hitachi’s proposals, saying ministers must show they are committed to backing UK manufacturing.
Pat McCourt, Unite regional officer, said: “The announcement of such large scale redundancies is bad news for the affected workers, their families and the local community.
“These redundancies need to be laid at the door of the Government. Its existing procurement policies mean major contracts for new trains are too readily awarded to overseas companies, depriving factories in the UK of work.
“If the Government is serious about protecting jobs and skills going forward, then procurement policies need to be radically reformed.
“Ensuring that future major train contracts are awarded in the UK will be an early test of the Government and whether it is serious about backing UK manufacturing.
“Ensuring that new work is secured for the Hitachi factory will be a major test for the new Conservative MP who was elected last month on a pledge to deliver for local people.”
The potential changes come just a month after Hitachi revealed a contract worth more than £350 million to supply 125mph intercity rolling stock for the Avanti West Coast service.
Hitachi will make 23 trains – made up of 135 carriages – which are due to begin operating on the West Coast Main Line from 2022.
It also previously secured a £400 million Abellio UK order to deliver trains for services on the East Midlands Railway franchise and has made stock for FirstGroup’s Transpennine Express operation and Class 385 rolling stock for Scottish lines between Edinburgh and Glasgow.
The company also remains in the running for a £500 million contract to supply trains for the Tyne and Wear Metro.