Litchurch Lane works, Derby Litchurch Lane works, Derby, 2012. Photo: mattbuck / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED

The Tories’ slash and burn approach to the economy continues with the potential closure of Britain’s only train manufacturer in Derby, reports Kevin Crane

This month, the city of Derby was hit with potentially catastrophic news that barely registered on the rest of the country, despite the fact that it’s actually a story as big as the potential loss of steel production in Wales and of oil refining in Scotland. Litchurch Lane train works, Britain’s last real site of train manufacture and the center of Derby’s wider economy, is threatening to lay off 1,300 directly employed staff which will have ripple effects throughout the wider region. Litchurch Lane is the purchaser, and therefore economic driver, for a huge infrastructure of other employment.

The proximate cause of this emergency is that the 150-year-old site’s present owner – French engineering company Alstom – which was already reeling from its over-expansion (having acquired the previous owner Bombardier just a couple of years ago) is facing a year or even two without orders for new vehicles as a direct consequence of Rishi Sunak cancelling the Northern extension of HS2. It should not come as a surprise to anyone that a shorter rail line will need fewer trains.

HS2 was controversial and troubled, but the way that the Tories have chopped it down has been a disaster, and this is a symptom of that. The road to Hell is, of course, paved with good intentions, and Sunak has made his usual vague claims that HS2 will be replaced with ‘other projects’. No one knows what these are, of course, and there are no orders in place for new trains – or anything at all – associated with them. Alstom is therefore telling the government that, as far as Britain’s last historic train works goes, they can lose it if they won’t use it.

The Tories are significantly pushing Britain’s economy down with their present policy of doing nothing and expecting growth to emerge from somewhere, and the effects of it will be long-lasting. When it comes to the rail sector, losing onshore manufacturing is only going to make our transitions away from road to rail, a target on which everyone supposedly agrees, even harder and more expensive.

The inhabitants of Derby will be shocked by this news, and probably also surprised. Yes, Litchurch Lane has been in trouble because of weak support from government before, notably in 2011, but their city was supposed to be the new national headquarters of ‘Great British Railways’. Things were meant to be on the up for them, with new jobs and opportunities. GBR has, of course, yet to be much other than a name, and they’ve got this to worry about. If you want to support workers in the city, you can support the Derby Peoples’ Assembly petition to save jobs at Litchurch Lane.

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