Honda to close Swindon factory by 2021 with loss of 3,500 jobs, car giant confirms

  • Video report by ITV News correspondent Libby Wiener

Car giant Honda has confirmed plans to shut its factory in Swindon in 2021 with the loss of 3,500 jobs.

The Japanese firm told workers it proposed to close the vehicle manufacturing plant at the end of the current model's production lifecycle.The plant currently produces 150,000 cars a year.

A statement 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."

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.

Honda Europe senior vice president Ian Howells told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "This is not a Brexit related issue for us."

He added: "These other changes which are now coming at us globally we have to now respond to."

Around 3,500 people currently work at the Honda factory. Credit: PA

Workers Wiltshire factory reacted angrily following rumours of the closure on Monday, at a time of turmoil for UK car manufacturing and fears over the impact of Brexit.

The criticised bosses at the plant for not letting them know about the closure soon enough.

Despite there being no mention of Brexit in the statement, one worker, who has been at the plant for 24 years, said he blamed the closure on the UK's EU departure.

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."

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

Following the announcement, Swindon’s Tory MPs Justin Tomlinson tweeted, describing the news as "devastating".

  • Geraint Vincent visits businesses around Swindon which could feel the knock-on effect of so many people becoming unemployed in the town

Consultation with the Unite union will begin Tuesday, 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."

The number of cars produced in the UK has fallen since 2016. Credit: SMMT/PA Graphics

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."

Speaking to ITV News, Business Secretary Greg Clark said Honda's decision is a "devastating blow to that fantastic workforce, to the town of Swindon and indeed to the country."

He pledged that intends to "work together with the community, with the workforce, with the trade unions, with the local leaders," to ensure that people who have lost their roles as part of the manufacturer's global restructure are not left out of work.

"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 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."

Chamber of Commerce, said: "The automotive industry is a bellwether for UK manufacturing, and has a disproportionate impact on many of our business communities and on our export strength.

"The planned closure of the Swindon plant will have a major impact across the area, affecting not only many employees on site but also firms and staff across the supply chain.

"Given the size of the operation, there will be a wide and diverse network of regional suppliers that will now be hugely concerned about their future business prospects.

"Employers, government and local authorities must do all they can to deliver tangible assistance and guidance for the people and communities that will be affected by an announcement of this scale.

"This development highlights the importance of maintaining and attracting investment in local economies.

"While the automotive industry in general is going through a period of transition, and a number of global factors will have played a major part in a decision of this size, the ongoing Brexit uncertainty and looming threat of no deal is one factor that should have been resolved a long time ago."