UK factory among future Astra makers

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The future of the Ellesmere Port car manufacturing plant has been secured after General Motors Europe (GM Europe) announced it would continue to make cars there.

GM Europe announced today that its popular compact Astra make would be made in four countries across Europe from 2010.

As well as the Merseyside factory, plants in Poland, Germany and Sweden will also make the Astra brand which sold nearly 500,000 units last year.

The move means the loss of around 1,400 jobs in Antwerp, Belgium, but GM Europe has insisted it must make efficiencies in order to remain competitive in a highly-stretched market.

Several major carmakers, including Ford Motor, have been forced into drastic restructures in recent years as global demand for their products has faltered.

MPs recently described the prospects for Britain's car manufacturing industry as being "mixed, at best" in a recent report, with risks coming from cheaper production in eastern Europe, higher labour costs in Britain and logistical improvements making UK plants relatively expensive to run.

Despite all these problems the news has been welcomed by both the government and unions.

"This is good news for Ellesmere Port and good news for Merseyside as well as being a boost for the car industry in the UK after too many disappointments," said Tony Woodley, general secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union.

"There is no doubt in my mind the most important reason behind [the] decision was the productivity, quality and commitment of the workforce. It is a strong indication that when we fight hard and fight together for manufacturing we win."

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