Following the government’s announcement today (July 26) on plans to ban all new petrol and diesel cars from 2040, Unite assistant general secretary Tony Burke believes there needs to be a national debate with key stakeholders. He writes:
Today’s announcement has wide ranging implications for the UK economy and future employment prospects for hundreds of thousands of skilled workers.
The automotive industry is the jewel in the crown of British manufacturing and that renaissance over the last 15 years has been partly due to the close working between the employers and union. Nothing should be done that would jeopardise this hard-won success.
It needs the most careful consideration and we are calling for a national debate embracing employer, Unite and ministers to delve into all the aspects of what is proposed.
The ending of combustion engines by 2040 was already well-known, however, the pressure has now come on the automotive industry, following decisions by a number of large cities to begin to ban diesel cars from their cities.
We believe it is important to stress we manufacture diesel and hybrid engines in the UK. Ford at Dagenham and Bridgend where the Panther and Dragan engines are produced are the cleanest diesel and petrol engines in the world respectively.
The government has one shot at this and need to get it right and must not damage our automotive industry.
Unite will be responding to the government consultation in great detail as we represent members in the automotive industry, automotive supply chain, refining and downstream oil distribution and transport – all these are all interlinked and we will consult widely with our members.
The government’s announcement has been made against a background of it having no real plan as to what the alternatives are and no real strategy for the replacement of combustion engines whether that be hybrid, electric or hydrogen.
While a scrappage scheme may be useful – once it is announced it could damage the industry and people considering purchasing new cars will, no doubt, have second thoughts about buying even the cleanest diesel engine cars.
We have concerns about how the oil companies will react to the ban on diesel. At present, we import 80 per cent of diesel requirements and 20 per cent is refined in the UK. The oil giants may consider such production is no longer viable earlier than anticipated.
Earlier this week, the government announced a £246m investment in battery technology, the government needs to accelerate the expansion of this industry so the UK becomes a global centre of excellence.
The UK automotive sector stands on the verge of becoming the world leader in new technology, but if the government does not back up today’s announcement with serious investment our industry will stall.
Alongside BMW’s new electric Mini in Oxford, Nissan has committed to new battery technology in Sunderland and the first electric black cabs have started rolling off Geely’s production lines in Coventry.
If the UK is to overtake Germany, China and the USA, this government must match the sector’s ambition and invest in new public infrastructure for e-vehicles, while becoming a champion of electrification and new automotive technology.
The speed of the two announcements shows that the government does not have a joined-up industrial strategy and we are concerned that ministers are looking for issues other than Brexit to take up their time.