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Business Secretary pledges 'unbounded commitment' to protect Vauxhall jobs

Business Secretary Greg Clark has pledged the Government's "unbounded commitment" to protect jobs at Vauxhall.

Fears have been raised over the future of British car plants after the PSA Group, which owns Peugeot, began talks to buy General Motors' European operation Opel, which includes Vauxhall.

Responding to an urgent question in the House of Commons by Labour MP Justin Madders, Mr Clark said Vauxhall's British plants have been highly successful and he will do all he can to protect them.

He said: "Every part of Britain has a stake in Vauxhall, and so I completely agree with him that we will do everything we can.

"And my personal commitment and the commitment of this Government will be unbounded to make sure the future - building on the success of the plant in his constituency - of the workforce will be maintained. It's my purpose, I'm grateful for his support for that.

"And I will of course work with all of the groups, including the trade unions, including the workforce, to make that case, if new owners there are to be, to those new owners."

Some 4,500 people are employed at Vauxhall plants in Ellesmere Port and Luton, and many tens of thousands more jobs are in the supply chain and customer services.

Mr Clark said Vauxhall is one of Britain's "oldest and most valued" car manufacturers and that he has spoken to GM Motors president Dan Ammann to stress "the importance we attach to Vauxhall's presence in the UK and to its workforce".

He added: "In our meeting he told me that no agreement with PSA had been reached and that discussions were ongoing, and that he shared my assessment of the success of the Vauxhall plants in Britain and of the Vauxhall brand, that GM's intention was that any deal should be about building on the success of the operations rather than seeking to rationalise them."

He also met with PSA board members and emphasised "the importance I attach to the continuing success of Vauxhall in Britain and the recognition of its workforce", Mr Clark said.

"The PSA executives said they too greatly value the Vauxhall brand and the commitment of its workforce and that any deal would build on these strengths.

"They also emphasised that their operational approach in recent years has not been to engage in plant closures but to focus on continuous improvements in plant performances."

Mr Clark said he emphasised the Government's commitment to "securing continued and mutually beneficial access to European markets" and their intention to enhance the competitiveness of the UK economy.

He added: "I will do everything I can at all times to secure the best possible future for Vauxhall and its workforce, our unity of purpose in seeking this good future should be a source of strength in this House."

Mr Madders, the Labour MP for Ellesmere Port and Neston, said Vauxhall is a "British success story" that must be protected.

He said: "If this takeover goes ahead we need to get the message out that risking the closure of either facility would be a retrograde step, not just for the UK economy but also for the new owners.

"So will the Secretary of State confirm that the Government stands ready to use all the tools at its disposal to protect British jobs at Vauxhall?"

Mr Madders said that while the proposed takeover cannot be seen as purely down to Brexit, Britain's pending departure from the EU has created an atmosphere of uncertainty for businesses.

He added: "Will the Secretary of State ensure that the future of the automotive sector is put front and centre of our negotiations and that a red line is that there will be no deal to impose tariffs, not just on the finished product but also on components in the supply chain."

Rebecca Long-Bailey, making her first appearance at the despatch box as shadow business secretary, said: "The French government owns a 14% share in Peugeot, which has prompted many to suggest that any job cuts are likely to fall in Opel's six plants in Germany, the UK and Spain.

"Now, the German government has already demanded that there must be no job or plant losses as a result of any deal, and yesterday German papers reported that PSA had pledged to continue operating all four of Opel's German production sites."

Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee chairman Iain Wright added: "The concern will be that this issue of this important company's future in Britain will become collateral damage in wider negotiations and deals regarding Brexit."

Mr Clark said this was not a "Brexit-related transaction" and that Britain's automotive industry was performing well.

He added: "One of the points that the PSA executives made to me was that since the new management of PSA has been in place, they have taken some pride in having part of their strategy not to close plants.

"These discussions are clearly continuing, there is no deal that's been done, but I share her view...that it's very important that our successful enterprises, with successful workforces, should be able to continue that success in the future."

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