The news that Vauxhall’s Ellesmere Port plant has managed to get the contract to build the 2015 Astra was an even bigger achievement than it first appeared. Many of the finance world’s biggest brains had already written it off in its face-off with Opel plants in Germany. The received wisdom is that, in continental Europe, car factories are never closed because the local governments will never allow it.
And yet a pretty radical labour agreement, which will see three-shift working in order to get the annual capacity up to 170,000 cars per year, was given the green light by a near-unanimous vote by the staff. And Ellesmere is safe until 2020.
Just across the Mersey, only three miles or so if you are a crow, is Jaguar Land Rover’s Halewood plant. This ex-Ford plant won global awards for quality when it was building the Jaguar X-Type and was rewarded with production of the Freelander 2 and the insanely popular Range Rover Evoque.
Just down the road from Halewood were British Leyland’s two giant Speke plants. The first one was originally built by Triumph on Merseyside after ‘encouragement’ from then-government. Halewood and Ellesmere were similarly government inspired creations. In the 1970s, all three factories were bywords for poor quality and union militancy.