Honda confirms plan to close Swindon plant with loss of 3,500 jobs

Decision is a ‘devastating blow’, says business secretary Greg Clark

Ben Chapman
Tuesday 19 February 2019 09:23
Honda preparing to axe 3,500 jobs by closing Swindon plant, says report

Honda has confirmed it will close its factory in Swindon, with production to shut down in 2021.

The Japanese car manufacturer’s only UK plant employs 3,500 staff and makes 150,000 Honda Civics each year. Honda said the decision was part of a plan to accelerate its commitment to electric cars and was not related to Brexit.

It comes after a series of car manufacturers including Nissan and Jaguar Land Rover announced plans to either cut UK jobs or shift production to other countries.

Car manufacturers are dealing with Brexit, the shift to electric cars, plummeting demand for diesel vehicles and a slowdown in key markets such as China.

Katsushi Inoue, Honda’s chief officer for Europe, said the company was dealing with “unprecedented changes” affecting the industry.

“As a result, we have had to take this difficult decision to consult our workforce on how we might prepare our manufacturing network for the future,” he said. “This has not been taken lightly and we deeply regret how unsettling today’s announcement will be for our people.”

Honda said it planned to focus activity in regions where it expects to have high production volumes.

Japan recently signed a trade deal which EU will introduce zero tariffs on car imports, whereas vehicles exported from the UK to Europe face a 10 per cent tariff after a no-deal Brexit.

Business secretary Greg Clark said the decisions was “devastating” for Swindon and the UK.

“This news is a particularly bitter blow to the thousands of skilled and dedicated staff who work at the factory, their families and all of those employed in the supply chain,” he said.

“I will convene a taskforce in Swindon with local MPs, civic and business leaders as well as trade union representatives to ensure that the skills and expertise of the workforce is retained, and these highly valued employees move into new skilled employment.”

The decision was “deeply disappointing” because the UK is one of the leaders in the development of electric vehicle technology, Mr Clark said.

The closure will bring to an end 26 years of Honda production in Swindon, which serves as the main site globally for producing the Civic, the UK’s most popular car export to the US.

Staff in the Wiltshire town – which voted 55 per cent in favour of Brexit in the 2016 referendum – said they were angry about the development.

Man who worked at Honda Swindon for 24 years sums out Brexit in 6 words

One worker, who has been at the plant for 24 years, told the Press Association he blamed the closure on Brexit.

The Remain voter said: “Perfectly viable car plant operating for 30 years, no problem at all – as soon as Brexit comes along the plant needs investment.

“People like Justin Tomlinson, our MP, campaigned for this Brexit. He wanted Brexit – he gets to carry the can. If he’s not unseated by a massive majority at the next election, then this town gets what it deserves.”

Asked how he felt about the news, the man replied: “Pretty hacked off, to be fair.”

Jaguar Land Rover last year unveiled thousands of job cuts while Ford last week warned a no-deal Brexit would be “catastrophic” for the firm’s UK operations.

Unite national officer for the automotive sector Des Quinn said the Honda job losses will be a “shattering body blow at the heart of UK manufacturing”.

“The car industry in the UK over the last two decades has been the jewel in the crown for the manufacturing sector – and now it has been brought low by the chaotic Brexit uncertainty created by the rigid approach adopted by prime minister Theresa May,” he said.

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Local Conservative MP Justin Tomlinson tweeted on Monday: “Honda are clear this is based on global trends and not Brexit, as all European market production will consolidate in Japan in 2021.”

Honda’s decision comes after Nissan announced this month that it would build its new X-Trail model in Japan rather than Sunderland while Toyota has also sounded the alarm, stating that it has “no contingency for no deal”.

A Toyota spokesperson said this month: “We need a deal. We will have peak production in March because we have a new model, the Corolla.

“There is no planned production stop. No deal is not an option for us. We operate lean manufacturing and hold hours of inventory at the plant.”

Additional reporting by Press Association

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