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‘Lift the gloom’

Simple Spring Statement measures could bring ‘urgent’ boost to save UK manufacturing
Alex Flynn, Wednesday, March 13th, 2019

Unite called on the chancellor Philip Hammond to use today’s (March 13) Spring Statement to dramatically boost the UK’s beleaguered car industry, its supply chain and wider manufacturing.


With approximately 22,000 job losses announced in the auto sector in recent months and with a number of major carmakers about to enter a Brexit shutdown, Unite is urging the government to step up action to save the sector from the drag anchors of a consumer downturn, the mismanagement of diesel and a wider combustion engine transition, a troubled global economy and years of Brexit uncertainty.


In the last few months alone, a number of car manufacturers have made announcements scaling down production, or as in the case of Honda, pulling out of the UK altogether with the planned closure of its Swindon plant in 2022, risking 3,500 jobs.


In another blow to UK car manufacturing, Japanese carmaker Nissan announced yesterday (March 12) it would end production of the Infiniti Q30 at its Sunderland plant by the summer – just two months after the firm cancelled plans to produce its newest X-Trial model at the same site.


These decisions came amid warnings from BMW last week that it could shift production of the Mini and engine work to Europe in the event of a no deal Brexit. Separately Didier Leroy, chairman of Toyota’s European operations, said a no-deal outcome to EU withdrawal talks would be “terrible” and would create “big additional challenges” to Toyota’s UK operations’ competitiveness.


PSA boss Carlos Tavares meanwhile told ITV News that investment in Vauxhall’s Ellesmere Port plant is on hold until the outcome of Brexit is decided.


The union, the lead in UK manufacturing, says that the government has to urgently deliver on a strategic vision for the sector or see the UK slip from 30 years of global leadership in the industry.


Unite says that there are a few simple measures which the government could take that would go a long way towards lifting the gloom descending on the sector, and protect, even create, jobs.


This includes help from the chancellor for the UK to develop sustainable supply chain support for our UK manufacturers and to become a world leader in the development and manufacture of electric vehicle batteries and fuel cell technology. By supporting new high volume, lithium-ion battery manufacturing facilities, we could create an estimated 3,000 new jobs while Unite estimates that a further 3,000 jobs would be created through battery recycling operations.


Unite also urges the chancellor to use the UK’s public procurement budget of £268bn to help support the transition of the entire UK taxi, rail and bus fleets to clean fuel such as full electric, hybrid or hydrogen power.


In addition to boosting support for electric vehicles and battery production, the union is also pressing for greater investment in the provision of a new widespread charging and re-fueling infrastructure for alternatively powered vehicles.


On steel, just 43 per cent of the £158m the government procured during 2017/18 was from the UK. The union is calling on the government to shorten supply chains and support UK steel jobs by guaranteeing the vast majority of steel used in major infrastructure projects such as construction, rail and shipbuilding is from the UK.


Commenting ahead of the Spring Statement, Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said, “The UK’s car industry is facing unprecedented challenges ranging from a weak economy and Brexit uncertainty, to the government’s clumsy demonisation of diesel while simultaneously withdrawing subsidies for full electric, hybrid and hydrogen vehicles.


“Tens of thousands of skilled jobs have gone or are under threat and make no mistake, we are fearful that without direct government support and intervention many more could go too,” he added.


“When one carmaker sneezes, both the supply chain and wider manufacturing catches a cold, imperilling tens of thousands of jobs. With Honda planning to close Swindon, threatening the livelihoods of over 15,000 people, Philip Hammond must use the Spring Statement to support the jewel in the crown of UK manufacturing.


“The chancellor must lift the gloom descending over UK Plc and signal that the government is ready to do, as competitor nations do, and step in to equip UK manufacturing for the challenges ahead.  We believe that there is a package of fairly simple measures that will both create thousands of good jobs and see this country establish itself as a world leader in electric vehicles,” Turner went on to say.


“Unite urges the chancellor not to wait around any longer. The window for supporting our manufacturing economy, from steel to autos, and make it fit for a green future is closing. This government will not be forgiven if it lets these very real opportunities pass it by.”


Stay tuned on UniteLive for more Spring Statement coverage.


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