The commission is probing whether the grant – given to Vauxhall’s plant in Ellesmere Port near Liverpool – breaks European rules on public aid to provide an extra incentive for training. The commission believes the car maker would have carried out the training despite government funds.
The cuts raised fears about the long-term future of the Merseyside factory, but the government offered the cash to improve performance and provide a staff training programme for the next five years. The plant subsequently won a contract to manufacture the new Astra model.
A spokesman for GM told Personnel Today: “Starting in 2010, GM plans to build 180,000 units of the next generation global compact car at Ellesmere Port using the current workforce of 2,200 over three shifts.
“The government-funded training is designed to provide specific added value by raising the skills of the workforce up to a globally competitive level for the long term.”
Competition commissioner Neelie Kroes said: “The commission supports training that improves the skills of the workforce. However, we must make sure that public funds do not just provide windfall profits to companies that would have paid for the training as part of their normal business.”
Bruce Warman, a former director of personnel at Vauxhall, who left the firm in 2003, warned that delays to training at the Merseyside plant could mean a late launch of the project and could see initial manufacturing going to another plant.
He said: “I recommend that the European Commission support this success story, which is a vital component to Europe’s motor manufacturing in terms of competing against Asia.”