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Fight is on to save Alstom jobs.

Birmingham's political leaders have pledged to lead the fight to save as many as 1,000 jobs at the threatened Alstom train making plant, writes Campbell Docherty. Paul Spooner, the city's director of economic development, yesterday held a meeting with management at the French engineering giant's Washwood Heath factory and thrashed out an agreement to lobby bosses of the UK rail network to win more train orders.

The crisis at the historic former Metro-Cammell works was prompted when a pounds 101 million order for new London Tube trains was switched to a plant in Spain.

Alstom then went further, telling the workforce at Washwood Heath that the final train completed as part of an order for Virgin Trains next summer would be the last built at the plant.

It said the facility would be downgraded to a repair workshop, a move which would see most of the employees lose their jobs, place countless related component suppliers in jeopardy and perhaps lead to the closure of the plant for good.

However, Mr Spooner said: 'We had full and frank discussions at which the management explained the situation facing the plant.

'Despite the huge challenges they are facing, I was encouraged by their determination to try to win more orders to allow the works to continue operating.

'We agreed to continue our discussions over the coming weeks but our initial thoughts are that the most constructive way in which the city council can help save the Washwood Heath operation is to assist in lobbying the Strategic Rail Authority and the Government to try to secure more orders.'

The SRA, however, faces a cash crisis of its own and spiralling maintenance costs on the rail network have meant services are being cut back and the demand for new rolling stock has followed suit.

Mr Spooner said council leader Sir Albert Bore would meet Alstom European vice-president Paul Barron in the next fortnight.

'Together, they will look at ways of working together to on the lobbying operation, with the aim of ensuring that new train franchises coming on stream go to companies which could secure their trains from Alstom Washwood Heath.'

He added: 'Clearly the Secretary of State for Industry is aware of the situation, and we look forward to the possibility of a high level meeting with the Government, the City Council and Alstom senior management at the earliest possible date.'
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jul 4, 2003
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