Honda CONFIRMS Swindon factory closure with loss of 3,500 jobs

Honda CONFIRMS it will close Swindon factory with 3,500 jobs at risk but insists move is NOT Brexit-related… as angry workers reveal they only found out on social media

  • Japanese firm tells workers it proposes to close vehicle manufacturing plant
  • Workers at Wiltshire factory react angrily with UK car manufacturing in turmoil 
  • Honda blames ‘changes coming at us globally’, saying: ‘This is not Brexit related’
  • Business Secretary Greg Clark admits closure is a ‘devastating decision for UK’ 
  • Honda sends its Swindon workforce home for the day after confirming plans

Honda today confirmed it is shutting its Swindon factory with the loss of 3,500 jobs, less than six months after bosses pledged support for the plant.

The Japanese firm said it proposed to close the vehicle manufacturing plant – which makes 150,000 cars a year – at the end of the current model’s production lifecycle. 

It comes one day after workers at the Wiltshire factory reacted angrily to the move at a time of turmoil for UK car manufacturing and fears over the impact of Brexit.

Some workers only found out about the announcement via Twitter, while others said they were ‘pretty hacked off’ and criticised a lack of communication from bosses. 

The entrance to the Honda car plant in the Wiltshire town of Swindon is pictured yesterday

Workers leave the Honda factory in Swindon yesterday with 3,500 jobs now set to be lost

Some residents in Swindon blamed Brexit for the closure, but Honda Europe senior vice president Ian Howells insisted: ‘This is not a Brexit related issue for us.’

Mr Howells told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning: ‘These other changes which are now coming at us globally we have to now respond to.’

He added: ‘In terms of where we are in our investment in the UK, then I’m afraid we are in a position where our investment and our focus needs to go somewhere else. 

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‘It can’t be in the UK. And this is really a challenge for us on a global basis and not decisions being made locally by either ourselves, or equally by the UK Government.’

Meanwhile a union source told BBC News that Honda had sent its Swindon workforce home for the day after confirming the closure plans.

The employment losses are not expected until 2021, but Business Secretary Greg Clark admitted the closure was a ‘devastating decision for Swindon and the UK’. 

Chief executive Takahiro Hachigo speaks in Tokyo today about the Swindon plant’s closure

A lorry with a car carrier trailer leaves the sprawling Honda plant in Swindon yesterday

Workers are pictured here inside the Honda manufacturing plant in Swindon in a file image

He said: ‘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.

‘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 foreign companies scaling down in Britain after the Brexit vote

Today’s news is the latest blow to hit Britain’s car manufacturing industry, with several international firms threatening to close plants amid Brexit reservations. 

In December, Nissan announced it would no longer build its X-Trail car at its plant in Sunderland and Jaguar Land Rover recently said it would cut 4,500 UK jobs.

Meanwhile, Ford bosses have warned a no-deal Brexit would be ‘catastrophic’ and would cost them 1,000 jobs – mainly at its Bridgend plant in Wales.

On Sunday, aerospace giant Airbus claimed it had already been forced to spend ‘tens of millions of euros’ preparing for the prospect of no deal. 

Japenese tech giant Hitachi revealed in January that it would freeze construction of its stalled nuclear power station in Wales due to problems financing the project. 

The British government had reportedly agreed to finance two thirds of the three trillion yen construction cost, with Hitachi as well as Japanese and British investors scheduled to cover the balance.

But Hitachi’s fund-raising efforts have been deadlocked at home while its request for additional investment from the British government has been shelved with London consumed by Brexit.

‘The automotive industry is undergoing a rapid transition to new technology. The UK is one of the leaders in the development of these technologies and so it is deeply disappointing that this decision has been taken now.’

Honda said under the proposed restructure, the current role of its UK manufacturing business (HUM) as a global manufacturing hub may no longer be viable.

One worker told the Daily Mirror yesterday: ‘I did not have a clue until I saw a text from a friend who said he’s seen it on Twitter. We have heard nothing from management. It’s disgusting.’ 

Honda insisted its European HQ will continue to be located in the UK. 

A spokesman said: ‘This proposal comes as Honda accelerates its commitment to electrified cars, in response to the unprecedented changes in the global automotive industry.

‘The significant challenges of electrification will see Honda revise its global manufacturing operations, and focus activity in regions where it expects to have high production volumes.’ 

There was no mention of Brexit by Honda. Consultation with the Unite union will begin today, and Honda said it will be working closely with its workforce over the months ahead.

Katsushi Inoue, Honda’s chief officer for European regional operations and president, Honda Motor Europe, said: ‘In light of the unprecedented changes that are affecting our industry, it is vital that we accelerate our electrification strategy and restructure our global operations accordingly.

‘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. This has not been taken lightly and we deeply regret how unsettling today’s announcement will be for our people.’

HUM director Jason Smith said: ‘We understand the impact this proposal will have on our associates, wider supplier base and the local community. We are committed to supporting associates to help them through this difficult time.’ 

The Honda plant in Swindon is pictured in an archive aerial photograph taken in 1998 

The closure of the plant, set to happen within the next few years, will put 3,500 jobs at risk

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. 

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

Honda closure sees car manufacturing industry face fresh blow

Honda’s decision to close its Swindon plant is the latest blow to the UK’s car manufacturing industry.

The development is highly unwelcome for those who rely on the plant for jobs and for those with high hopes for British manufacturing after Brexit.

The car industry has been warning for years about the impact of leaving the European Union – particularly of a no-deal scenario – being added to issues including the slump in diesel sales.

A fortnight earlier, Nissan told workers its next-generation X-Trail would be made in Japan and not Sunderland as planned.

It came despite the Government offering the manufacturer a so-called sweetheart deal of up to £80 million in support to protect the firm from higher post-Brexit trade tariffs.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) had warned the industry was on ‘red alert’, with figures suggesting car production had slumped by almost a 10th last year.

In 2018, just over 1.5 million cars were built in UK factories, a 9.1 per cent slump on the previous year and the lowest in over five years.

Demand for diesel cars is drastically down, with a decline by 22 per cent to 561,000 last year.

The SMMT said investment had effectively ‘stalled’, having halved in 2018 while firms delayed decisions until the UK’s trading arrangements became clearer.

Ford is also seeking up to 400 voluntary redundancies at its Bridgend engine plant and Land Rover is to shrink its workforce by 4,500, with most of those cuts in the UK.

Meanwhile, Porsche began asking buyers placing orders to sign contracts containing a clause stating they would be prepared to cover the cost of a potential 10 per cent tariff. 

Unite’s automotive sector officer Des Quinn said the closure would be a ‘shattering body blow’ for UK manufacturing. 

Professor Matthias Holweg, an automotive industry expert at Oxford University, said fears of the high tariffs that would accompany a no-deal departure were ‘dangling Damocles’ sword’ over the manufacturers. 

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.’

Another man leaving the site said staff had not been warned about the announcement. He said: ‘Devastated. That’s all I can say.’

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said it is a ‘huge blow’ to workers and the wider community, adding: ‘The Government’s disastrous handling of Brexit is letting people down across the country.’

Alan Tomala, regional officer for the Unite union, and a former employee at the plant between 1995 and 2007, said workers were ‘angry, dismayed and worried’.

He added: ‘The usual formula is one job in the plant equates to four in the supply chain and the local economy. If closure is confirmed, it will rip the heart out of this area.’

Mr Tomala said the union represented more than 1,200 workers at the plant, and they had not been told if the reports were correct.

‘For employees, our members and the wider workforce, both in the plant and in the supply chain, to hear about this through the media I think is disrespectful and disgraceful,’ Mr Tomala said. ‘The workforce in there deserve better than that.’

The company employs about 3,500 people at the Swindon plant, building around 160,000 Civics a year, more than 90 per cent of which are exported to Europe and the US.

The news comes a fortnight after Nissan told workers its next-generation X-Trail would be made in Japan and not Sunderland, as planned, despite the Government’s so-called sweetheart deal of up to £80 million to protect the firm from higher post-Brexit trade tariffs.

Speaking in September, Ian Howells, senior vice-president of Honda Europe, said the company remained ‘right behind’ its plant in Swindon and was not considering moving out of the UK after Brexit.

Honda was the first major Japanese car company to get involved in large-scale manufacturing in the UK when it did a deal with British Leyland in 1980 to produce Honda-based models in BL factories. Work began on its plant in Swindon in 1985.

Honda’s decision to shut down its Swindon plant shows the whole car industry has stalled, writes RUTH SUTHERLAND – and No Deal fears aren’t helping


Honda’s decision to shut down its plant in Swindon after 30 years as a major local employer may not be directly motivated by Brexit but by wider problems in global car manufacturing.

However, yesterday’s move by the Japanese carmaker could hardly have come at a worse time.

No one in the industry doubts that uncertainty over Brexit is having a chilling effect on production. Fears surrounding our departure helped to halve fresh investment in the sector last year, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.

Nissan has also scaled back UK production by cancelling construction of its new X-Trail SUV at its Sunderland factory

Overseas investors such as Honda have, in the past three decades, rebuilt the British car industry after it was driven to the brink of annihilation in the 1970s by rabid trade union activity. Now they are in flight.

Nissan is cancelling plans to build its new X-Trail SUV at its Sunderland factory. US giant Ford, which employs 13,000 workers in Britain, describes the potential consequences of No Deal as ‘catastrophic’, while the boss of Jaguar Land Rover, which is cutting UK jobs, has issued a string of dire warnings.

Brexiteers will, of course, accuse these firms of crying wolf. Maybe – but that doesn’t mean there are no wolves out there. And it is a tragedy that the very companies which helped to bring about a remarkable renaissance in the British car industry have become the collateral damage in the chaos of our impending departure from the EU.

Jaguar Land Rover, which is cutting UK jobs, has also issued warnings about a no deal Brexit

It is yet one more problem to contend with in a troubled industry that faces plummeting demand for diesel cars, a slump in the vast Chinese market, and fears that Donald Trump may impose punishing tariffs on vehicles imported into the US.

In Germany, a country synonymous with the production of sleek, super-reliable driving machines sold worldwide, the decline in the auto industry is actually stalling the economy.

The industry is also dealing with the lifestyle choices of the Uber generation: city-dwelling, environmentally-conscious young people who are less fixated on car ownership than their parents were.

So a state of emergency would prevail even without Brexit, and the threat of No Deal makes us an even less attractive place to invest in troubled times.

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