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Tuesday, 12 December, 2000, 18:46 GMT
'Devastating' blow for Luton
The Vauxhall car plant
Vauxhall is one of Luton's main employers
The closure of the Vauxhall plant at Luton in Bedfordshire will have "devastating" consequences for the area, say business experts.

Vauxhall is the largest manufacturing company in the town and is at the heart of the local community.

Along with the 2,000 workers who will be made redundant over the next 15 months, it is estimated up to 50,000 people in Bedfordshire could be affected by the closure.


Vauxhall is Luton

Vauxhall employee Jason Boniface
Bedfordshire Chamber of Commerce chief executive Richard Lacy said the knock-on effects would be huge.

He told BBC News Online: "There are 2,000 people being made redundant by Vauxhall but when you consider the trickledown effect, it could end up being much more.

"You can double that figure if you include the immediate supply chain to the plant and then when you look at the service sector support industries, the figures rises steeply again.

"The effect of the closure is devastating. We think anything from 35,000 to 50,000 people could be affected. The numbers are enormous."

Mr Lacy said while there were job opportunities in the town, especially with proposed developments at Luton Airport, the problem would be matching the skills of the Vauxhall workers with the jobs.

He said: "These people have different sets of skills.

"The immediate challenge will be retraining."

Challenge

General Motors is blaming the closure of the plant on what it calls "changing market conditions" in Europe and over-capacity for the car plant's closure.

Management is promising "very reasonable" redundancy terms, but this has come as no comfort to workers.

Jason Boniface, a forklift driver, said: "What's going to become of this place? Vauxhall is Luton. It employs so many people round here."

Vince Thompson, another forklift truck driver, said the only other big employer in the town was Luton Airport.

Liam Murphy, who has only just finished his apprenticeship at the plant, said: "I'm worried because even though I'm young, there will be so many people looking for work round here that it will be hard to get a job," he said.

'Betrayed'

Luton Borough Council is setting up a task force with the Regional Development Agency to deal with the problems the closure will create.

Council leader Bill McKenzie said: "This is very disappointing and damaging news.

"The success of Vauxhall has been a result of the efforts and achievements of the workforce, some 2,000 of whom sadly will now have to look for a new future.

"We welcome the government's response this afternoon and will be working with the Regional Development Agency to help set up a task force to determine the best way forward.

"Luton Borough Council has an economic development strategy that has borne fruit at the London Luton Airport, Butterfield Green and Century Park - we already have the networks and links in place to address the issues here."


Our key aim will be to find new job opportunities to replace those being lost over the next year

Stephen Byers
The Labour MP for Luton South, Margaret Moran, described the decision to close the car plant as "astonishing" and said the timing, just before Christmas, was insensitive.

She said her constituents had been betrayed by Vauxhall and the company had a moral obligation to find jobs for the 2,000 it was making redundant.

Ms Moran also called for the government to provide urgent financial support for the area.

Trade and Industry Secretary Stephen Byers has vowed to try to help find new jobs for those made redundant.

He said: "Vauxhall's announcement of job losses at Luton is a bitter blow for the individuals affected, their families and the local community.

"Our key aim will be to find new job opportunities to replace those being lost over the next year."

Unions are to fight the closure, saying it is not justified.

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03 May 00 | Business
Vauxhall creates 500 jobs
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