Makers of the iconic London black cab, the London Taxi Company (LTC), launched a new state-of-the-art plant today (March 22) in the West Midlands to much fanfare in what’s been dubbed “one of the great comeback stories in UK manufacturing history”.
The £300m investment by the Chinese company Geely will see the emphasis at the new site at Ansty, near Coventry, on the TX5 electric taxi with the goal of producing 5,000 such vehicles by 2019.
Unite members from both manufacturing and Unite’s Cab section attended the launch today, which included a ribbon cutting ceremony (pictured above), as well as presentations and a plant tour.
Today’s launch celebrated the crowning achievement of an unlikely success story, one which would not have come to fruition had it not been for the efforts of Unite.
Less than four years ago, the London Taxi Company was on the brink of shutting down after it went into administration in 2013.
Unite assistant general secretary Tony Burke told UNITElive that the company was then “on its knees”.
“All jobs had been lost,” he explained. “It was a very dark time”.
But thanks to the hard work of Unite members working together – both Unite LTC members as well as Unite’s Cab section – they were able to make the case for saving the firm. Eventually Chinese company Geely bought the London Taxi Company and agreed to continue investing in its future success.
‘A great credit to Unite’
“The turnaround was remarkable – all workers who had been laid off were taken back on,” Burke said. “This comeback is a great credit to the union.”
“Now, not only have jobs been saved but with the additional investment from Geely, hundreds more jobs have been created with the production of the new electric taxi. This is great news for the West Midlands and for UK manufacturing as a whole.”
Unite regional officer Peter Coulson agreed.
“This is fantastic news in terms of highly skilled jobs for our members and the future creation of employment opportunities,” he said. “It will be a wonderful boost to the West Midlands economy.
“Unite has worked very closely and successfully with the company to contribute to this success story which is one of the great comebacks in Britain’s long industrial history.
“Geely sees great potential for the iconic London taxi which is famous across the world with its cameo appearances at the 2012 London Olympics and in the James Bond film franchise,” Coulson added. “The company is already exporting to the Middle East and is eyeing up the Australian market.”
Unite shop steward Paul Williams, who played a central role in the campaign to save the company, said that the odds were from the beginning stacked against them.
“In 2012, things were looking really bad – it wasn’t a matter of if the company would go to into administration, it was a matter of when. The situation had a certain inevitability to it.”
Many of the workers, Williams noted, had been with the company for 30 or 40 years.
“It was a family-run company,” he explained. “The news was devastating as it had an impact on generations of families working in the same company.”
Williams was himself made redundant. But he and Unite regional officer Peter Coulson immediately got together to embark on a 13-week campaign which gained the full support of Unite, especially the union’s Cab section, and various politicians.
“We spoke to local MPs and we eventually made the case to Michael Fallon, who was business minister at the time, that the iconic black cab must continue to be produced in the UK,” he said. “He backed our campaign and from there the media attention just grew exponentially. The story wasn’t only on the local news in the Midlands – it was on national TV. Keeping the story in the public eye I think was crucial.”
The campaign’s eventual success was more than they had ever dreamed of, Williams noted.
“We’ve gone from a fairly decrepit factory that was on the brink of shutting down to a new state of the art facility with hundreds of millions in investment making electric cabs – the London black cabs of the future,” he said.
“We’ve got a world-class workforce making a making a world-class taxi. Not only this, but the company is exporting globally with the aim of growing into several more world markets in the future.”
The campaign to save the company would not have been so successful had it not been for the support of Unite’s Cab section, which jumped into help right away.
“We linked up with the campaign immediately,” explained Unite’s London Cab Section chair Jim Kelly. “Political lobbying – meeting with government ministers – along with campaigning on the streets and raising awareness among the general public was our essential strategy.
“We were also influential in putting the case to Geely that the project to continue manufacturing black cabs in Coventry had a viable future because there was such great demand from cab drivers. That the drivers were so insistent in wanting this I think really helped convince Geely.”
Kelly added that the London Taxi Company’s turnaround was “a good example that shows that with our highly skilled workforce, things can still be built in the UK”.
“As a trade union, we believe in keeping jobs and skills in the UK,” he added. “We need to have a strong manufacturing base in this country and we need more highly skilled apprenticeships – our children’s future depends on it.”
Kelly pointed to the critical importance of investing in low-emissions cars, of which LTC’s electric hybrid TX5 (pictured below), which will go on sale in the UK later this year, will play a central role.
“It is obvious from the many discussions we’ve had in London that we need to clean up our air,” he said. “In the first five days of 2017, London collectively exceeded air pollution limits that were set for the entire year. Something has to be done.”
“With the new electric cabs we can lead the way in improving air quality – we can set the agenda that influences others towards a more sustainable future.”
Kelly paid tribute to all the hard work Unite had done in ensuring the campaign’s success.
“[Unite general secretary] Len McCluskey played a pivotal role in supporting us with the resources we needed. The involvement of others such as [Unite assistant general secretary] Tony Burke, [Unite national officer] Roger Maddison and many more was absolutely instrumental. This campaign would not have had legs without the help of Unite.”
“It shows what we as a trade union – with different sectors and regions working towards the same industrial aims – can accomplish when we support each other.”
The opening of the new Ansty site has seen the workforce grow to 700. By 2020, it is expected that more than 1,000 people will be employed at the plant. Production of the TX5 is set to begin in the summer.