The Government’s Exports Minister says he was impressed by one of the North-East region’s biggest employers during a visit to the site.

Mike Freer MP, who was appointed Exports Minister in 2021, visited global automotive manufacturer Gestamp on Aycliffe Business Park in Newton Aycliffe.

Mr Freer heard from Gestamp’s local and international managers on his tour and learned about the firm’s ambitious expansion plans, its investment in state-of-the-art research and development facilities and its track record on training young local talent.

Gestamp – a multinational company which specialises in the design, development and manufacture of highly engineered metal components for the automotive industry – exports almost 70% of the products made in Aycliffe to Europe, the US, China and South America.

The firm, with its global HQ in Spain, has invested heavily in new technology and innovative manufacturing processes at its Aycliffe site, including a new R&D facility, and has also appointed an employee wellbeing lead to focus on employees and the local community.

Sedgefield MP Paul Howell, who arranged Mr Freer’s visit, said: “The Minister met with both local and international managers and was shown how the business had developed over the years and its incredible global reach.

“They are focused on continuing this and educated the Minister on the opportunities they see as their key customers evolve their businesses post covid and also embrace the transition to electric vehicles.

“Minister Freer was impressed by what he saw and he and I will be sharing what we learnt with other Ministers from the Business and International Trade teams.

Mr Freer, the Conservative MP for Finchley and Golders Green in London, said: “It was a pleasure to visit Gestamp to see for myself the success story the company is.

“Being able to discuss in person any exporting issues the company faces was particularly useful.

“I will be doing what I can to help the company continue to thrive.”

Gestamp Aycliffe plant director Jonathan Phillips said: “It’s really important for us as a plant to get our message to the government that we’re a very large employer in the local community with more than a thousand people here and we need to secure the future of the plant.

“The automotive industry is changing. We’re seeing lots of changes in technology and processes, and we have battery technology which is being invested in by the government here in the North-East.

“We’re ready to invest but we need to know the government is ready to support our investment.

“Exports make up almost 70% of our turnover and we’re competing with all the major European countries for business, so we have to be competitive.

“For 70% of our products to go to the EU, the US, to China, South America, we need to know the British government is behind us.

“We’ve left the EU and we have the issue of potential tariff changes. But it was reassuring to hear from Minister Freer that the government understands our concerns and will be doing everything they can to help us.”

Gestamp has recently invested in the 4,300 sq ft Tallent Academy which includes a wellbeing space for staff and focus on upskilling current workforce as well their future apprentices.

The facility houses its new R&D division as well as robot cells, specialist welding bays, tooling facilities, a medical area, physiotherapy suites, counselling rooms and an ‘R&R’ wellbeing zone.

The Academy will also help Gestamp to promote the personal and professional development of employees.

Now, there are more than 70 training sessions held every month in the Academy, with more than 250 learners completing 2,500 hours of training.

And, more recently, Gestamp revealed it had invested in a full-time wellbeing lead, while the firm has trained up 25 mental health first aiders.

Gestamp is also embracing a range of national and local mental health awareness campaigns, encouraging employees to take part.

It’s part of Gestamp’s health and wellbeing vision for the company and its 1,000-plus workforce,

Jonathan Phillips added: “This investment in our staff and their wellbeing shows our commitment to our workforce, as well as our vision to being the local employer of choice.

“We aim to give back to the community in any way we can and this forms an integral part of our staff development and overall ethos to look after our employees.

“It’s a big part our strategy locally and globally to enhance our position as a top ESG company, something which is firmly located in our DNA.”

Staff’s wellbeing is a key part of Gestamp’s safety indicator, GHSI, which is a corporate health and safety standard which is measured and audited globally.

Part of that indicator is a psychosocial risk assessment, introduced this year to the firm’s health and safety management, to ensure all sites have assessed the psychosocial side of their business.