Ellesmere Port MP warns of 'catastrophic' Vauxhall plant closure

Vauxhall[1]

Justin Madders says carmaker’s threat to shut factory is reaction to PM’s no-deal Brexit cabinet




New Astras ready to leave Vauhxhall’s Ellesmere Port factory.Photograph: Phil Noble/Reuters

Local politicians have said there will be catastrophic job losses if Vauxhall carries out its threat of ending production at its Ellesmere Port factory[2] should Brexit make the site unprofitable. Justin Madders, Labour MP for Ellesmere Port and Neston, said the carmaker’s comments were a direct reaction to the new prime minister, Boris Johnson, “stuffing his cabinet with people who are committed to a no-deal Brexit”. Madders said: “The challenge is for the new government to explain what they’re going to do to avoid catastrophic-level job losses in my part of the world.

If it shut, I think that would shatter a lot of confidence and morale in the area.”

The Vauxhall plant at Ellesmere Port on the WirralThe Vauxhall plant at Ellesmere Port on the Wirral[3]

PSA, the French carmaker that owns Vauxhall[4], on Sunday made explicit its pledge to pull all production from the Ellesmere Port plant in Cheshire and switch to a site in mainland Europe if Brexit renders the factory unprofitable. Its chief executive, Carlos Tavares, said the business had lined up an alternative location in southern Europe[5] to build Vauxhall Astra and Opel Astra cars if the UK did not achieve a satisfactory outcome when leaving the EU. “I would prefer to put [the Astra] in Ellesmere Port but, if the conditions are bad and I cannot make it profitable, then I have to protect the rest of the company and I will not do it,” he told the Financial Times. The move would probably lead to the closure of the plant on the Wirral, which employs more than 1,000 workers, and would reduce the company’s presence in the UK to its van plant in Luton, employing just over 1,000.

Karen Shore, the deputy leader of Cheshire West and Chester council, said the area was braced for the worst: “A year ago, we thought we would survive it but now – when you think about the domino impact it would have on thousands of jobs across the sub-region – it’s really devastating for us. “It’s in the hearts and minds of the people, that plant, and it’s part of the fabric of the town. I do believe that it would set us into decline and we would have to fight to get out of that.

It would set us back economically and in terms of the psyche, as well.” The self-styled “home of the Astra”, which opened in 1964, is the most heavily exposed of all the UK’s car plants: 80% of its production is exported to Europe and about 75% of its components are imported.


Ellesmere Port MP warns of 'catastrophic' Vauxhall plant closure

The ‘true Brit’ Astra, made at Ellesmere Port – but perhaps for not much longer. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

The gates of the 400-acre site were locked shut on Monday, its vast bays empty and roads around the factory deserted during its annual two-week summer shutdown.

A huge billboard, cast in union jack colours, advertised the plant as the home of the Astra with a picture of the car and the words “True Brit”. John Cooper, the senior shop steward for the Unite trade union at the plant, said most of the workers were on holiday but everyone was concerned by Tavares’s announcement. “It’s just going to be the death knell of Ellesmere Port car plant, as PSA see it,” he said. “But as Unite see it, we will be fighting tooth and nail. My members stand ready to fight back and do whatever is necessary to make sure that volume car building continues at Ellesmere Port.”

The plant, which sits across the Mersey from Liverpool John Lennon airport, has looked almost certain to close twice in the past decade before being saved at the last minute. Its workers, and people who live in Ellesmere Port, have grown used to the uncertainty. Just last month, there were positive signs as PSA announced that the new Astra would be built in Ellesmere Port, subject to the UK’s final Brexit deal and an agreement with Unite[6].

However, Tavares’s comments indicated the company was making contingency plans for a poorly received Brexit deal or leaving the EU on 31 October with no agreement in place. The mood was no more upbeat at the town’s Port Arcades shopping centre, where a Vauxhall-branded clock looks down on the shoppers. “Once Vauxhall closes, Ellesmere Port won’t exist – it would be a ghost town,” said John Nicholas, 83, who worked as a forklift truck driver at the factory for 23 years. “I never thought it could close down, but now it’s a big concern.” Aidan Davies, 49, has made a living selling cars to Vauxhall workers and others in the town for 20 years.

The plant’s closure would cause “massive devastation” to an already struggling town centre, he said. “Business is very up and down.

The footfall through the town has fell, the council have put the rents up.

It’s obviously going to have a knock-on effect.”

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References

  1. ^ Vauxhall (www.theguardian.com)
  2. ^ threat of ending production at its Ellesmere Port factory (www.theguardian.com)
  3. ^ The Vauxhall plant at Ellesmere Port on the Wirral (interactive.guim.co.uk)
  4. ^ Vauxhall (www.theguardian.com)
  5. ^ Europe (www.theguardian.com)
  6. ^ subject to the UK’s final Brexit deal and an agreement with Unite (www.theguardian.com)
  7. ^ Vauxhall (www.theguardian.com)
  8. ^ Automotive industry (www.theguardian.com)
  9. ^ North of England (www.theguardian.com)
  10. ^ Brexit (www.theguardian.com)
  11. ^ European Union (www.theguardian.com)
  12. ^ Europe (www.theguardian.com)
  13. ^ Facebook (www.facebook.com)
  14. ^ Twitter (twitter.com)
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