The shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald has pledged to put British firms first and slash the amount of rail contracts being handed out to competitors across Europe and beyond.
At a visit to Birmingham’s Centre for Railway Research and Education, the Labour MP lambasted the government’s record in recent years which has seen various lucrative rolling stock contracts awarded to foreign companies.
Over the last eight years, hundreds of millions of pounds in rail manufacturing contracts has gone overseas with one in eight jobs involved in manufacturing trains lost between 2011 and 2017. The turnover of locomotive and rolling stock is also down 10%.
Official figures show that Network Rail has handed out rail contracts worth at least £106m on to foreign companies since 2014, while the number of people employed in train manufacturing in the UK has fallen by 12.5% since 2011.
These contracts include the Spanish company Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles (CAF) winning a £490m contract to build 281 vehicles for Arriva Rail North, CAF and Bombardier Transportation selected to supply rolling stock for the West Midlands franchise and Network Rail High Speed awarding a £59m contract for HS1 rail grinding services to Swiss company Speno International SA.
To turn around the sector’s fortunes, Labour is proposing a change in public sector procurement rules so that the government supports jobs and industry and promotes a fairer society by having a "default position" of facilitating British procurement. The party also wants to invest in infrastructure using its National Investment Bank, in order to help companies in Britain to keep goods flowing efficiently and keep costs low. Furthermore, it pledges to invest more in education, skills and lifelong learning through its National Education Service.
The shadow transport secretary says the party moving forward would “build a rail network fit for the 21st century” and “provide the foundation for a rail system placed back in the public’s hands”.
He added: “Over the decades that the Tories have savaged our industrial heritage, rail manufacturing has declined, major public contracts have gone overseas and the skills the sector needs have received unforgivably poor support. We will rebuild our rail industry, to develop the hi-tech skills of young people and all workers, to promote 21st century manufacturing and to defend jobs and the communities that depend on them.”