Keep Lotus in Norfolk campaign is gathering pace

Fresh evidence of the importance of iconic car maker Lotus to Norfolk was set out yesterday as the EDP campaign to make sure the company stays in this county gathered pace.

Speculation is rife about the future of the company as new Malaysian owners DRB-Hicom, who bought Lotus's parent company Proton in January, considers what to do with the iconic Hethel-based car maker.

The early indications have been that the sports car maker is not part of the new owner's long term plans for Proton and that a sale is likely.

But with senior Proton officials rumoured to be courting potential Chinese buyers alarm bells have been set ringing that a quick sale of Lotus is on the cards, amid a worst case 'MG Rover' scenario that assets and production could be taken out of Norfolk and shipped overseas.

The EDP has joined forces with Norfolk MPs to put pressure on the government and DRB to ensure the future of Lotus in Norfolk, and on Wednesday prime minister David Cameron confirmed that he held discussions with his Malaysian counterpart and the firm's new owners about the company.

Meanwhile closer to home members of the New Anglia board yesterday agreed the need for a united front to continue to make the case to ministers and outline the importance of Lotus to the Norfolk economy and the value that would be generated for the new owners by maintaining the skills and expertise at Hethel.

In the coming days New Anglia is also looking to set up a dedicated 'Lotus response group' which will be tasked for making the case and also drawing up any contingency plans should the need arise.

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New Anglia has played a pivotal role in making the case for Lotus to receive more than �10m from the government's regional growth to support manufacturing and research at Lotus and John Fuller leader of South Norfolk Council, and a member of the New Anglia board, said it was vital to keep Lotus in Norfolk.

He said the loss of Lotus could mean a triple-whammy of job cuts for existing staff, a loss of skills and technological expertise, and also the removal of a significant source of local business rate income, which could impact on council spending elsewhere.

'We are doing all we can to support Lotus to keep it here,' Mr Fuller said. 'The impact on South Norfolk could be shocking.

'There are more than 1200 employees and their families dependent on Lotus and their wages have got to be spent in the local economy. Clearly decisions are being taken at a national and international level but local authorities also have a fundamental interest in Lotus as a local business rate payer.

'Going forward we are to get 80pc of locally raised business rates and Lotus is one of our largest business rate payers, but it's also the other way around, if you lose a business the rates go too.'

'Historically there have been a lot of spin-off companies in South Norfolk and a lot expertise which has developed such as carbon fibre, which has over time also been used in the marine industry.

'It's not just cars, it's spread across into other technologies and we don't want that to be cut off.'

Caroline Williams, chief executive of Norfolk Chamber of Commerce said with the UK looking to attract more inward investment, Lotus could prove to be a jewel in the crown either for DRB or any new buyer.

'Lotus is vitally important to Norfolk both for staff it employs but also for its supply chain,' she said. 'It's obviously an iconic brand which helps to keep our profile up.

'But it's also an catalyst for the advanced engineering sector within Norfolk. When you have a major brand like Lotus which is very supportive to business and has also worked closely with Hethel Engineering Centre and the University of East Anglia, it's important not to lose sight of that.

'With more people interested in inward investment in the UK, I think it is important that the Malaysians understand the importance of the jewel in their portfolio. Sometimes when you are looking from afar, you may not appreciate that, and we need to help them understand that.'

Meanwhile Norwich South Labour Party's Parliamentary Candidate, Clive Lewis also called for an end to the uncertainty, calling on both DRB and the coalition government to provide stability.

'The intrigue and mystery surrounding the future of Group Lotus is simply unacceptable,' Mr Lewis said. 'It is destabilising to it's future and causing distress to the hundreds of workers who have made this company and it's brand what it is. They and their families deserve better.'

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