Amid speculation that the UK could at long last see its first giga-factory manufacturing batteries for electric vehicles, Unite, the country’s leading union, has called for the government to pick up the pace on green investment – or see the UK fall behind as a major economy.
Speaking at the Society of Motor Manufactures and Traders (SMMT) summit in London today (June 29), Steve Turner, assistant general secretary of Unite, warned that the politics of “soundbite and rhetoric” coupled with “dither and delay” that this government has become known for during the Covid-19 pandemic, is all too evident in UK manufacturing.
He also warned that the government is failing to intervene, invest and support on the scale needed to both meet our climate change commitments and match competitors in the United States and Germany.
Mr Turner added that while one giga-factory is certainly welcomed, seven are needed to ensure the UK remains a player in the emerging green automotive industry.
He also said that the UK government’s incoherent green programme and abandonment of its industrial strategy is sending a highly damaging message that the country is not open for business to employers looking to invest.
The government’s failure to support the GKN Automotive plant in Birmingham which is faced with closure in 2022, “is symptomatic of a government that wants to recover the economy on the cheap and without a bigger picture.”
Steve Turner, Unite’s assistant general secretary for manufacturing, said, “This is the moment to secure our green recovery and cement the UK as a manufacturing powerhouse.
“Miss this and it will not come around again. We’re working every hour of the day to secure the new models that’ll provide secure futures for our plants, from Ellesmere Port to Solihull,” he added. “But without government action, business will simply take its investment elsewhere – to countries where the government is more interested in being an active partner in rebuilding the economy.
“The government’s failure to be an active partner on the scale of other governments is sending a signal to investors that the UK is not open for business.
“Our workers must not lose out because this government dithers and delays on intervention and refuses to get behind a comprehensive industrial strategy with trade unions and industry,” Turner continued.
“A revolution is underway in the automotive sector. It is going green and electric at a rapid pace – but the danger is that this government does not appreciate the urgency of the action needed and UK workers will lose out.
“When we get that much-needed giga-factory it will be because the sector fought for it, despite the lack of support and interest from the government.
“But one giga battery plant is just not enough,” he went on to say. “We need a plan for the other six the economy needs to be put in place now and plans to manufacture the cathodes, anodes and cells, not just battery assembly. We need to manufacture the fuel cells, electric drive units and inverters, as well as generate the hydrogen and install the national infrastructure needed to charge the vehicles of the future.
“It’s a disgrace that we’re having to battle to save skilled jobs at GKN because the government is sitting on its hands.
“Angela Merkel would not allow Germany to lose these vital trades because that country is stepping up to the green challenge. Yet here Boris Johnson wants the plaudits, but the truth is his government is doing next to nothing to help renew manufacturing in this country.
“The GKN plant will not be allowed to go to the wall it must be brought into a ‘national electrification strategy’,” Turner noted. “We desperately need resilient supply chains, transitioning our plants and skills to manufacture the components of the future.
“Employers I deal with daily are tearing their hair out at the government’s lack of ambition for UK manufacturing and this massive workforce.
“Our automotive sector supports 800,000 direct jobs in the country and up to four times that indirectly. A sector of this scale and strategic importance should sit at the heart of our economic renewal, not be left to scrap for every penny from this government.
“Electrification is coming to our auto and manufacturing sector but this is because of the hard work and dedication of the industry and its exceptional workforce and has nothing to do with Boris Johnson.”
By Ryan Fletcher