Derby rail jobs crisis: ‘Government needs to get its head out of the sand’

Following the news that the Government is working urgently with train manufacturer Alstom to secure the jobs of its staff and suppliers at its Derby factory, due to recent stop-start decisions on rolling stock orders, key industry figures have reacted.

Just six weeks ago the Railway Industry Association (RIA) published a report on the UK rolling stock market highlighting the fact that the only significant order in the last three and a half years was the HS2 order announced in December 2021 and that previous orders would soon be completed and consequently factories and upgrade facilities across the country will be empty, putting at risk thousands of jobs unless action was taken soon.

RIA chief executive Darren Caplan said: “The potential job losses in Derby being urgently discussed by the DfT and Alstom are of course a real cause for concern for the company, rail manufacturers more widely, the Midlands, and the UK railway industry generally.

“We at the Railway Industry Association highlighted just six weeks ago 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 to upgrade or replace trains which are already or will soon be 35 years old. In July we said that government decisions were needed imminently to allow the procurement and private financing of rolling stock to be upgraded or replaced, not only to the benefit of the railway sector but also to improve passenger services, reduce carbon and improve air quality.

“In the long term, we urge the Government, working with the railway industry, to develop a strategy which creates a smoother order profile for upgrading older trains and building new trains, giving rail suppliers the confidence to invest in people, plant and processes for a sustainable train manufacturing capability in the UK. But in the meantime, the rail manufacturing industry – which employs over 30,000 people and contributes at least £1.8bn of GVA to the UK economy annually – needs decisions on the building and renewing of rolling stock to be taken immediately, otherwise events in Derby today will be repeated, and rail workers and factories throughout the rail supply chain will face a needlessly anxious future.”

Derby City Council is seeking talks with Alstom. Councillor Baggy Shanker, leader of Derby City Council, said he would be taking steps to work with the city employer to understand how Derby City Council could assist and support.

“We’re shocked to hear the national media coverage today. The Litchurch Lane factory site is a unique asset for Derby and we understand the impact these job losses will have on our residents and the wider region.

“As a Council, we’re ready to play our part and urge the Government and unions to work closely with Alstom to ensure a sustainable future for the factory, which would not only benefit the thousands of staff at the site, but many more across the local supply chain.

“The rail sector is immensely important to the city, and was recognised earlier this year with Derby being named the home for the new Great British Railways headquarters. We stand with Alstom and their workers during this challenging time and pledge to support wherever we can.”

Meanwhile, the Unite union is demanding that the government “steps up to the plate” and ensures that Alstom’s train building factory in Derby has sufficient work to guarantee its future.

General secretary Sharon Graham said: “The government needs to get its head out of the sand and bring forward these contracts to improve existing rolling stock immediately.”

“It is frankly unbelievable that they have not already agreed to this, in order to safeguard thousands of highly skilled jobs held by Unite members at Alstom.”

“They now need to do the right thing and I can assure you that Unite will be making sure that they are held to account for their actions.”

The Alstom factory in Derby is unique as it the UK’s only end to end (design, build, test) train factory, making it essential to the UK train industry, says Unite. There are around 2,000 workers at the site and approximately 5,000 workers in Alstom’s supply chain it says – although other industry figures have this combined figure at around 17,000.

Unite regional secretary Paresh Patel said: “Unite will do everything that is required to secure the future of the Alstom workforce. The government’s failure to properly plan its procurement process cannot and will not be allowed to threaten the livelihoods of our members. If this Government, who claims to be on the side of working people, allows this to happen it will be a gross betrayal of this workforce and the people of Derby.”