Bus Manufacturing

Transport – in the House of Commons at on 16 May 2024.

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Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Scottish National Party, Kilmarnock and Loudoun

What steps he is taking to support bus manufacturing.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Secretary of State for Transport

The UK boasts a strong and highly competitive bus manufacturing industry. Manufacturers have benefited significantly from Government funding as we work with industry to decarbonise the bus fleet. More than 5,200 buses have been funded across the UK since February 2020, with UK bus manufacturers supporting many of them. UK manufacturers have grown substantially in recent years as a result of their success in securing orders, supported by £460 million of dedicated ZEBRA—zero-emission bus regional areas—funding.

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Scottish National Party, Kilmarnock and Loudoun

The reality is that the UK Government could do much more. At Tuesday’s sitting of the Transport Committee, Mick Whelan of ASLEF said that in Germany, they have German trains and in Italy, they have Italian trains. He said:

“Before they award a Government contract, they look at their supply chains, future apprenticeships and all the things associated with those contracts”.

Why does the UK continue to destroy its own industrial base by refusing to implement similar procurement policies for all transport manufacturers, including buses? There is too big a reliance on Chinese imports.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Secretary of State for Transport

As I said, UK bus manufacturers have done very well out of decarbonisation policies. They are every competitive, and I have had the opportunity in this job to visit a number of them. If the hon. Gentleman believes that there is unfair competition from imports, he knows that there is an independent statutory body, the Trade Remedies Authority, whose responsibility it is to look at importers where there might be dumping. If he thinks there is any evidence of that by any manufacturers, he should provide that evidence to the Trade Remedies Authority so that it can conduct an investigation, as appropriate.

Photo of Simon Lightwood Simon Lightwood Shadow Minister (Transport)

The UK has a proud bus manufacturing history, from London’s iconic original Routemasters to Alexander Dennis’ next generation of hydrogen double-deckers used today in the Liverpool city region. As operators and local authorities decarbonise their fleets, UK manufacturers are ready to power that green revolution, but our bus makers are at risk from cheap models imported from overseas. This week, a major UK operator is preparing to procure Chinese-built buses for tens of millions of pounds due to cost pressures and because this Government have not set out a full industrial strategy since 2017. Will the Secretary of State tell the House what he will do to back British bus manufacturers and secure their role in this green revolution?

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Secretary of State for Transport

The hon. Gentleman will know that it is not possible, given our international commitments under the World Trade Organisation, to specify that people have to buy British buses. He will also know that British bus manufacturers are very competitive. The Government have made support available to businesses through our Advanced Propulsion Centre and UK Export Finance. As I said to Alan Brown, if the shadow Minister thinks that there is any unfair competition with subsidised imports, the Trade Remedies Authority has all the tools at its disposal to deal with that.

We back British buses. We have fantastic manufacturers, and I have confidence in them. In a fair competition, our bus manufacturers can take on the world. Wrightbus has had £76 million of support from UK Export Finance to support its ambitious exports. It is a shame that he does not have the same faith in British industry that we do.

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport)

Deary me, Mr Speaker. We have confidence in the bus manufacturers, and it is a pity that the Government do not—that is the problem. Unlike SULEBS and ScotZEB—the Scottish ultra-low emission bus scheme and the Scottish zero-emission bus challenge fund—the ZEBRA scheme has been a failure. No spin from the Dispatch Box can deny that, and our bus manufacturers are paying the price. We must learn from this, and we can start by encouraging those purchasing zero-emission buses to place greater emphasis on social value and wider environmental and economic impacts when evaluating tenders. The Government must take responsibility. Will the Secretary of State consider conducting a cross-Government review into prioritising domestic manufacturing within existing legal frameworks?

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Secretary of State for Transport

People are able to put social value into their tenders. My understanding is that local authorities do that, but they are not allowed to have a specific commitment to buy from a certain provision. The hon. Gentleman has to decide whether he has confidence in our fantastic companies, as he set out. In a fair competition, some of the companies that have been mentioned—some of which I have visited—can win against competitors around the world. If he thinks that there is unfair competition and that companies are being subsidised, he should give the evidence to the Trade Remedies Authority, which has the legal structures and the tools to do the job.