Swindon Honda plant closes after 36 years - with loss of 3,000 jobs

Some of the last Hondas to be built in Wiltshire are driven away from the Swindon plant.

Swindon's Honda factory will close its doors for the final time today - after 36 years in operation.

The closure of the Wiltshire car production plant will see 3,000 jobs lost and will also impact other firms which acted as its suppliers.

News of the closure sent shockwaves throughout the local economy, with questions raised about the future of the huge site, when it was announced two years ago.

The factory normally produces 160,000 cars every year, with 3,000 employees from the local area helping to keep the production line running.

Now just 200 will be staying on to help decommission the 370-acre site.

Many Honda employees were planning on spending much of their career at the plant, but no amount of protests or lobbying could change the minds of the bosses in Tokyo.

Workers from the plant in Swindon marched through the town in protest and went to Westminster as well in March 2019. Credit: Unite South West/PA

Jim Brennan worked in the factory for 13 years when he found out he would be losing his job through unconfirmed rumours.

"I had planned on retiring there, essentially. I've got quite a few years left but still I'd planned on staying there for the rest of my career.

"It was devastating, especially as we heard on the grapevine. One of the news channels had leaked it and it wasn't official," he added.

But younger workers have also been affected, with some let go shortly after starting.

The factory currently covers a 370 acre site in Swindon. Credit: Swindon Borough Council.

Michael Poole had been taken on as a Honda apprentice. He said: "We'd really just got into a career that we were really enjoying, that we were excited about, really passionate about.

"So it was like a rug had been pulled out from underneath us, and we weren't sure what was going to happen honestly."

But Honda has not totally abandoned its workers.

Alongside the 200 being employed to help decommission the factory, many have also received generous redundancy pay-offs, which mean some have not been in a hurry to find work.

Unite union representative Alan Tomala said: "These are indeed unprecedented redundancy packages. We're talking about six and a half weeks for every year. They're uncapped.

"And enshrined within them there's all sorts of other bonuses as well so yeah, they are very very generous indeed."

Some of the staff being let go have already been hired by local firms. Jim has begun an apprenticeship at local firm Recycling Technologies, which is taking on 12 former Honda workers.

But it is likely many of the 3,000 will be unable to find jobs paying similar wages.

Former Honda apprentices at work on a new apprentice course at local firm Recycling Technologies.

At local recruitment agency Opex Personnel, Ashlea Thompson said that although Swindon's jobs market was healthy, many of the vacancies were for "lower-skilled production work: fork lift drivers, drivers".

She also said their wages from Honda are not realistic in the current market.

"We had a conversation early on with one of the production workers who had worked for Honda for over 20 years and he was on over £20 an hour.

"Now, realistically for the same job that he was doing, you probably would be looking in the region of minimum wage: up to £10 an hour."

  • Why is Honda closing its only European factory?

Honda bosses say they sell more cars in Asia and America than in Europe and so need to focus their production in their strongest markets.

But not everyone is convinced this is the real reason.

Professor Andrew Graves at the University of Bath believes the factory may be closing due to Brexit.

He said: "Honda came here in 1979 because we'd just joined the EU, and they wanted to be part of the biggest market in the world for cars: 500 million people.

"So, like a lot of other car companies, they've reassessed that position now that we've left Europe, and that's a real shame in my opinion.

"None of the Japanese companies will say any of this is due to Brexit, because they've had an understanding back in Japan with Mr Abe, the Prime Minister, originally, saying: 'Do not get involved in British politics,' which is probably the right thing to do."

  • Who else is affected?

Beyond the 3000 Wiltshire workers being let go, other businesses connected to Honda are will also close on Friday 30 July.

Companies producing parts for Honda's production line have been affected.

TS Tech's factory in Highbury is also closing as a result of Honda's decision to close their European plant.

The TS Tech factory in Highworth is closing, as it used to produce car seats for Hondas - but that role is now redundant.

It is one of several factories run by different companies which have decided to close after Honda pulled the plug in Swindon.

Meanwhile in March it was announced logistics firm Panattoni will be taking over the Honda site.