Tuesday, April 23, 2024

End of production at Alstom in Derby would be a “death-knell for the city”

A key member of the Midlands rail industry has described the news of how Derby’s Alstom train-building plant could stop production this week as “a death-knell” for the city – and the tragic result of a long history of short-term economic thinking.

Malcolm Prentice, group chairman of rail maintenance firm MTMS and former managing director of Derby rail engineering firm Garrandale, said it would take many years for the city to recover should the factory have to close, with the loss of 3,000 jobs.

His comments follow an interview on BBC Radio Four with Alstom managing director Nick Crossfield, in which he said that production at the firm’s Litchurch Lane site was nearing the end, with an 18-month gap until the next order.

He added that the firm could no longer guarantee a presence in the city, admitting that any loss of work and jobs in Derby would have a knock-on effect on the local and national supply chain.

Mr Prentice, whose company is based in Moira, Leicestershire, and maintains depots across the country for a host of train operating companies, said its fortunes would not be affected by the lack of work at Alstom.

But he could not say the same for Derby, where he worked for the majority of his 40-year career in the rail industry and whose fortunes and identity rely heavily on its train-making industry.

And he said it was another sign of how under-investment in the UK’s railways over the past decades is now starting to catch up with the country, which has already seen the HS2 project heavily scaled back due to cost-cutting.

He said: “This is a death knell for Derby, and for Derbyshire, in so many ways. We’ve gone from being at the heart of the Industrial Revolution to being on the verge of losing the very industry that helped to build the city because there has been a lack of investment in home-grown manufacturing building trains for our own rail network.

“That’s a legacy of a political and business approach that has focussed on the short-term economic gain from cutting costs and selling off assets to overseas companies rather than investing for the long term.

“Once these factories are gone and the skills are gone, they’re either gone for good, or it takes many years to build them back up again. If we lose Alstom and those 3,000 jobs, plus all the jobs in the supply chain, then it will take Derby very many years to recover.

“I certainly don’t think I will see its recovery in my lifetime, and that makes me feel very sad.”

MTMS, which services and maintains rolling stock and equipment at more than half of rail depots across the UK, serves such familiar names in mainline rail as First MTR South-Western Railway, Govia ThamesLink Railway, Arriva and Siemens.

It is also a patron of the Midlands Rail Forum, which is the biggest forum of its kind in the UK.

Malcolm added: “This isn’t just about manufacturing. Transport is an important part of our country’s infrastructure and vital to us being a strong nation. Our economy relies on being able to transport the goods we import around the country and rail should be a big part of that, especially since the UK wants to cut emissions and become more sustainable.

“I don’t see the electric lorries, or the fleet of electric Amazon vans, that will deliver that to us, but I do know that rail is far more environmentally friendly than road haulage and should be at the heart of our national transport strategy.

“That isn’t happening, but it is across the rest of Europe, which has invested in their rail industry and are now way ahead of us.”

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