Vince Cable and GM’s vice chairman to visit Ellesmere Port as carmaker prepares to reveal production plans for new Astra
General Motors has signalled that the Ellesmere Port factory in north-west England will be saved, along with 2,100 jobs, after the head of the carmaker’s European arm revealed production plans for the new Vauxhall Astra.
The business secretary, Vince Cable, and Steve Girsky, GM’s vice chairman, have been pencilled in to visit Ellesmere Port on Thursday as the manufacturer prepares to confirm the creation of hundreds more jobs at the plant.
The head of Opel/Vauxhall, GM’s European business, all but confirmed that the Wirral site will stay open after telling thousands of workers in Germany that in future production of the Astra would be concentrated on just two plants instead of three. “In light of expected demand it only makes economic sense to have two plants,” said Karl-Heinz Stracke, effectively signalling the end of production of the Astra in Germany. “If we have these two works running on a three-shift system the production costs for the next Astra generation will be able to be considerably reduced from what they are today”.
Stracke declined to name the two plants but briefings are already under way at Ellesmere Port. Unite union shop stewards have agreed to put the proposals to workers this week in a series of mass meetings. The plans include a pay deal for workers at the site. They are also likely to involve the closure of GM’s Bochum plant in Germany with the loss of 3,200 jobs. Production of the new Astra will be shared with a factory in Gliwice, Poland.
Under the plan adopted by GM, the next generation Vauxhall Astra will be built at the plant from 2015 and the number of daily work shifts will rise from two to three. According to once source, up to 700 extra jobs could be created by the move, which will raise production capacity to more than 200,000 units per year – deemed a viable level for a modern car factory. The new plan for Ellesmere Port is also expected to include funding from Cable’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, with the programme likely to require new apprentices and component companies. As well as the 2,100 Vauxhall workers at Ellesmere Port the site also houses a further 700 employed by suppliers.
Doubts over Ellesmere Port’s future emerged at the beginning of the year, when a delegation of GM executives warned UK politicians and trade union officials that severe cost cuts would be needed across its Opel/Vauxhall European arm. The warnings sparked intense lobbying from Unite and Cable, who also visited GM’s chief executive, Dan Akerson, in the US. Speaking in March, Cable said: “The UK has a very, very good case and we have made a strong pitch to them.”