Belfast Telegraph

Peugeot boss gives assurances over Vauxhall plants

The boss of Peugeot has given assurances to unions and the Government that Britain's Vauxhall plants will see out their existing production runs - but also raised the issue of Brexit uncertainty.

Len McCluskey, Unite's general secretary, said he came away from a meeting with PSA Group chief executive Carlos Tavares without his "optimism being dented", and was told Mr Tavares was "not here to shut plants".

At a separate meeting in London, Business Secretary Greg Clark said Mr Tavares had outlined his vision "to increase market share and expand production, rather than close plants".

Ellesmere Port has agreements in place to build the Vauxhall Astra until 2021, while the Luton plant is under contract to manufacture the Vauxhall Vivaro van until 2025.

Concerns have been mounting over the future of the two factories and their 3,400-strong workforce since PSA Group announced its intent to buy General Motors' (GM) loss-making European operation, which includes Vauxhall and Opel.

The news comes after Mr Tavares said on Thursday that the deal could result in "speedy" cost savings and as the car industry braces for the potential impact of life outside the single market.

Speaking after the meeting, Mr McCluskey said Mr Tavares was "very pro-union" and a deal between the two companies was close.

"The discussions I have had with Carlos Tavares have been very open and relatively positive.

"I am pleased about some of the assurances that we have been given about honouring existing agreements and that means products in Ellesmere Port and Luton, although there is still a lot of issues and technical discussions to take place.

"He was very pro-union and he talked about not being here to shut plants, that is not his nature.

"Since he has been CEO of Peugeot, he has not shut a single plant, so I am going to take him at face value and hope that I am not disappointed."

Mr McCluskey has previously called on the Government to offer Vauxhall's UK plants the same Government assurances as Nissan.

Nissan announced in October that it was investing in production of new Qashqai and X-Trail models at Sunderland after receiving Government assurances that EU withdrawal would not affect the plant's competitiveness.

On Brexit, the Unite boss said he discussed the issue with Mr Tavares, as he continues to do so with manufacturing companies across the UK.

"It did come up, but it is on the basis of not quite knowing what will happen. We need to be ready and prepared to respond to what happens as it unfolds."

Mr McCluskey said he will now meet with Vauxhall union representatives from Ellesmere Port, Luton and Toddington on Monday to brief them on the Peugeot meeting and his exchanges with the Government.

The tie-up would cause GM to exit the UK and Europe, while transforming PSA Group into Europe's second-largest car maker with a 16% share of the market.

The Press Association understands that GM and PSA are eager to ink a deal within the next two weeks to prevent the proposed tie-up overshadowing their presence at the prestigious Geneva Motor Show on March 7.

Speaking after the Government's meeting with Mr Tavares, Mr Clark said: "The meeting was reassuring. We discussed how PSA's approach is to increase market share and expand production, rather than close plants. I was assured that the commitments to the plants would be honoured.

"There was also recognition that members of the Vauxhall pension fund will be no worse off."

The Peugeot boss told analysts and reporters on Thursday that the tie-up would create a "European car champion" by driving through ''significant synergies''.

In a statement after the London meetings, PSA Group said: " Mr Tavares reaffirmed his commitment to conduct this dialogue in accordance with existing agreements and the ethical approach of the PSA Group.

"He expressed his willingness to develop further the iconic Vauxhall brand to fulfil its loyal customers' expectations, underlining the power and importance of the brand in the UK."

Vauxhall is a major employer in the UK, with around 35,000 staff, including 23,000 in its retail network and 7,000 in its supply chain.

Weekly Business Digest Newsletter

This week's business news headlines, directly to your inbox every Tuesday.