NATIONAL security concerns over the proposed closure of General Electric’s (GE) Power Conversion site in Rugby have sparked a Parliamentary inquiry in an attempt to keep the 250-employee factory open.
MPs on the cross-party Defence Select Committee say closing the site – which designs, engineers and manufactures silent motors for naval fleet vessels – would lead to a ‘loss of sovereign capability and security’.
Writing to Defence Minister Gavin Williamson, the committee’s chairman Julian Lewis MP said: “The move would not only affect jobs, skills and long-term knowledge at Rugby, but would also have national security implications because of the transfer from the UK of capacity for MoD classified work.”
A consultation is underway on GE’s plans to cease manufacturing at the Technology Drive facility and move production to a plant in Nancy, France by the end of this year.
But Dr Lewis said the move would “leave the UK without the future capability to make large engines for naval shipping”.
In a further letter to the MoD, he accused the Government of being indifferent to “the long-term consequences of the transfer of yet another world-beating British-developed technology from our shores”.
He said the Government has the power to halt the site’s closure under an agreement between the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and GE, which states the MoD must agree to any GE proposal which would reduce the infrastructure supporting the Royal Navy in the UK.
An MoD official has stated the future of the facility is a decision for GE.
Steve Kerr, Unite the Union’s senior representative at GE in Rugby, welcomed the inquiry.
He said: “Unite is confident that, once the Select Committee read our submissions and hear our testimony, they will press the Government to ensure that GE abides by the agreement it signed with the British state to always maintain a manufacturing and repair capability in the UK for this strategically important national manufacturing facility.
“Only by keeping this facility open will the UK be able to secure its sovereign capability and operational freedom of action for the Royal Navy.”
Rugby’s Labour candidate for Rugby Debbie Bannigan called on the town’s MP Mark Pawsey to demand the Government take action.
Mr Pawsey said he had held regular meetings with GE executives and Government ministers to discuss the retention of GE in Rugby.
He said: “I asked the Secretary of State for Defence to do all he can to retain the manufacturing skills at GE here in Rugby.
“I’m encouraged that his department is working with GE on the contract for the Type 26 propulsion system, which is world leading technology.
“I will continue to work closely with my colleagues in Government and with GE to do all I can to keep this vital manufacturing facility in Rugby.”
Confirming the proposed closure last November, a GE spokeswoman said it was due to ‘challenging market conditions’ across Power Conversion’s traditional markets.
She said: “There is an overall under-utilisation of sites. To deliver the product costs demanded by GE’s customers, they must consolidate their manufacturing operations.”
The site’s future was thrown into further doubt last June, when a £1.3billion plan to build the world’s first tidal power lagoon in Swansea Bay – for which GE in Rugby was to supply the turbines – was thrown out by the government.
The inquiry, due to be held at the end of April, will hear evidence from Unite officers, senior executives from GE, and Mr Williamson.