Ellesmere Port and Neston MP Justin Madders (Lab) has pledged to keep working as hard as he can until the Government acts to safeguard the future of Vauxhall.
His assurance came at the end of a debate he secured at Westminster to highlight the position at the factory.
“Ellesmere Port is synonymous with Vauxhall Motors,” he explained.
“The first Vauxhall Viva rolled off the production line in 1964. As the plant grew, so did the town. There is virtually nobody who lives in Ellesmere Port who does not have some connection with the plant.
“At its height it employed around 12,000 people. Sadly, with recent job losses, the number is about a tenth of that today, but it is still substantial.
“We also have to take into account the fact that for every person employed at the plant three other people are employed in the local economy. There is also the potential for greater numbers should we increase from single-shift production again in the future.”
The MP continued: “Vauxhall remains a big part of the local economy. We should build our future success on such jobs, highly skilled, permanent jobs that manufacture something of national and local pride.”
The North Road plant, he said, ‘is a big part of the town’s local identity’.”From the 30 kids’ football teams that play under the name ‘Vauxhall’s’, to the sports and social club that has had huge investment in new 3G pitches and the kids at school who see working at the plant as part of their family tradition, it is a major part of our community, and we do not want to lose it.”
The plant has regular fights for survival, MPs heard. “Every five years or so, when the next model is being discussed, plants across Europe are effectively pitted against one another to bid for the next job.
“In the past the productivity and co-operation of the local workforce, combined with the tremendous leadership of Unite the Union, of which I am a member, in its work with management has put us in the best possible position to secure future work.
“That partnership is an exemplar of how to conduct employee relations for the benefit of everyone.
“As we know, however, every time a model comes up for renewal, it gets a little harder, the demands are greater and the workforce have to sacrifice a little more.
“It is a challenge we have always been equal to in the past but the convergence of factors undoubtedly makes securing the next model our biggest challenge yet.
“The latest edition of the Astra became European car of the year in 2016. It enjoyed great success, particularly in the sports tourer model, which led to 80% of the vehicles built in Ellesmere Port being exported to Europe.
“Despite that, in recent months, tastes have changed and there has been a dramatic slowdown in sales for that type of vehicle.”
The cuts in sales have led to cuts in the workforce, with 400 jobs going in October and another 250 earlier this year, Mr Madders told MPs.
“In the past a downturn has led to agreements between the unions and management about reduced hours to protect jobs, but the new owner, the PSA Group, has shown a different approach.
“That must act as a warning that we cannot expect any sentimentality from it, and that, as it has said consistently from the day it took over, plants will be judged on their efficiency.”
Brexit is the big challenge, Mr Madders suggested. “Uncertainty across a sector can have a real impact on investment decisions. As we know investment decisions in the automotive sector are traditionally made three to five years in advance, so decisions about investment in the post-Brexit world will begin to be made shortly.
“In that respect the timing could not be worse as the current model in production in Ellesmere Port is due to be discontinued around the same time, in 2021.”
PSA group Carlos Tavares had said ‘We cannot invest in a world of uncertainty’, Mr Madders pointed out and Prime Minister Theresa May, he was sorry to say, had not give any clarity.
The MP commented: “When I go home, I want to be able to tell my friends and neighbours that Parliament is united and determined to give them all the backing they need to enjoy another half-century of production at Vauxhall Motors.”
Minister Richard Harrington (Con) told Mr Madders: “I know that Vauxhall’s history is very important to it. The PSA senior management, from Carlos Tavares down, have made clear to ...the Business Secretary the value they place on Vauxhall’s historic brand and the commitment of its workforce. They have emphasised their intention to build on those strengths.
“That positive message was reiterated when the PSA Group launched its turnaround plan in November aiming to bring Vauxhall and its sister brand Opel, which were with General Motors, to profitability by 2020.
“Mr Tavares again made a clear commitment to Vauxhall and expressed the intention to avoid forced redundancies or the closure of any Vauxhall plants. He has consistently said that he wishes to exploit in full the company’s potential in the UK.”
The minister said he had been ‘disappointed’ at the announcements in October last year and in January on the voluntary reductions in the workforce at Ellesmere Port. Vauxhall had made it clear the decision was taken to safeguard the competitiveness of the plant in an ever more challenging environment across Europe.
“Ministers, more recently including myself, have stayed in touch throughout with key decision makers from both Vauxhall and the PSA Group and very helpfully with leaders from Unite and other unions, too. We have pressed the case for Vauxhall’s plants and highlighted the excellent UK workforce, and we will continue to,” he insisted adding: “We are absolutely committed to a successful Vauxhall, so that it remains and thrives in the UK, both at Ellesmere Port and at the company’s plant in Luton.”
Following the debate Mr Madders said: “I was pleased to see so many neighbouring MPs attend to show their support but I was once again extremely disappointed by the response from the Government. The minister actually stopped talking 2 minutes before the end of the debate.
“I’ll keep working as hard as I can until the Government acts to safeguard the future of Vauxhall.”