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UK Automotive Industry: Job Losses — [Mr Peter Bone in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 22nd May 2018.

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Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Labour, Warwick and Leamington 9:30 am, 22nd May 2018

My hon. Friend makes an important contribution. He is quite right about the multiplier effect on supplier industries—component manufacturers and so on. I totally agree with him about the importance of establishing a very clear pathway for the transition between where we are and where we have set ourselves to be in future. I will speak about that at some length.

The employment statistics are significant by anyone’s measure. The concern voiced by the industry is that direction is needed from policymakers, in particular with regard to Brexit and the UK’s future trading relationships, as well as to support for the transition to clean fuels. Without that clarity, it is inevitable that investment decisions will be placed on hold.

People will cite recent announcements at Luton and elsewhere as great news about the future of the industry, but many of us will understand that those sorts of decisions are taken many years in advance—those were taken way before the EU referendum. Without clarity, there will be a recruitment freeze or job losses, as we have seen. One example of the recruitment freeze is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham and Rainham, where Dagenham has recently announced that it will have to put on hold 150 planned jobs.

Just over a year ago, in March 2017, Lloyds bank conducted a survey of the UK automotive manufacturing sector. It summarised that the vast majority—some 87%—of automotive manufacturers planned to create new jobs in the next two years. It estimated that, if those plans were replicated across all the UK’s automotive firms, a further 85,000 new jobs would be created. What a difference a year makes.

In the context of Brexit, there are concerns that there may be job losses in the industry in the long term. The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee conducted an inquiry into the impact of Brexit on the industry and stated that, should the UK leave the customs union and single market, hundreds of thousands of jobs could be lost. It reported that

“it is difficult to see how it would make economic sense for multinational volume manufacturers—the bulk of the UK automotive sector—to base production in the UK in a no deal or WTO tariff scenario. The shift of manufacturing to countries within the customs union and single market would be inevitable;
the cost in UK jobs could be in the hundreds of thousands, and inward investment in the hundreds of millions. For the automotive sector, no deal would undoubtedly be hugely damaging. The Government should not seriously contemplate this outcome.”

Carlos Tavares, the chief executive of the PSA Group, which manufacturers Peugeot and Citroën vehicles, said:

“We cannot invest in a world of uncertainty. No one is going to make huge investments without knowing what will be the final competitiveness of the Brexit outcome.”

That sentiment was echoed by others, including the chief executive of Jaguar Land Rover, Dr Ralf Speth, who said:

“Uncertainty is really challenging us very much and not only us, it’s for the complete industry. You hardly see inward investment any more.”

Perhaps that should come as no surprise. Some have explained that job losses in manufacturing are an inevitability, and that we should embrace the loss of manufacturing in the post-Brexit era. One such voice is that of Professor Minford of Cardiff Business School, who has advocated “running down” the UK auto industry. In evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee in 2012, he said:

“It is perfectly true that if you remove protection of the sort that has been given particularly to the car industry and other manufacturing industries inside the protective wall, you will have a change in the situation facing that industry, and you are going to have to run it down. It will be in your interests to do it, just as in the same way we ran down the coal and steel industries. These things happen as evolution takes place in your economy.”

He echoed that statement in The Sun ahead of the EU referendum, writing:

“Over time, if we left the EU, it seems likely that we would mostly eliminate manufacturing, leaving mainly industries such as design, marketing and hi-tech. But this shouldn’t scare us.”

Well, I am afraid it scares me, and I think it scares many of us—for good reason.

A while back, the BEIS Committee stated that

“it is difficult to see how it would make economic sense for multinational volume manufacturers—the bulk of the UK automotive sector—to base production in the UK…The shift of manufacturing to countries within the customs union and single market would be inevitable”,

and it would cost hundreds of thousands of jobs, as I said. The Committee concluded:

“Overall, no-one has argued there are advantages to be gained from Brexit for the automotive industry for the foreseeable future. We urge the Government to acknowledge this and to pursue an exercise in damage limitation in the negotiations. This involves retaining as close as possible a relationship with the existing EU regulatory and trading framework in order to give volume car manufacturing a realistic chance of surviving in this country.”

The Committee is not alone in voicing its fears. The automotive industry’s trade body, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, stated:

“There is no escaping the fact that being out of the customs union and single market will inevitably add barriers to trade, increase red tape and cost. Settling for ‘good’
access to each other’s markets is not enough as it will only damage the UK’s competitiveness and reduce our ability to attract investment and the high quality jobs that go with it.”

It is worth noting that in 2017, 86% of the UK’s imports came from the EU, while only 41% of the UK’s exports went to the EU.

Many say that the UK runs a widening trade surplus in motor vehicles with non-EU countries and a widening trade deficit with EU countries, and that leaving the EU and the customs union is therefore a positive thing. That is true, but the industry has responded by using its strength through the renaissance that I mentioned to reduce that deficit considerably. Importantly, the industry shows a determination to grow in other markets—it seeks to retain its strong position in Europe, but want to build elsewhere too. Other countries’ domestic manufacturers are doing that, and we can do so too. It is not a choice between one and the other—they are complementary.

Our remaining in a customs union is critical to the sector’s future. We must avoid at all costs losing tariff-free access to the EU. In the worst-case scenario, under World Trade Organisation rules, a 10% tariff on finished vehicles and a 2.5% to 4.5% tariff on components would be introduced. Those tariff rates would cost the automotive sector at least £2.7 billion on imports and £1.8 billion on exports. Just imagine what would happen to the sticker price of vehicles in this country.

Ford has stated that rules of origin would “add a significant cost” to its business if UK-manufactured products were no longer considered to have originated in the EU. Similarly, Vauxhall has stated that any rules of origin changes

“will have a drastic impact on UK trade with any countries outside the EU”.

It is critical that a future UK-EU trade deal includes provision for full bilateral cumulation, which would ensure that components produced in the EU were considered local UK content for the purpose of rules of origin, and that the automotive sector was able to benefit from preferential trading relationships established with not only the EU but third countries.

It is worth noting that the majority of Ford’s Bridgend output goes to the EU. Without a comprehensive UK-EU free trade agreement, engines sent to European assembly plants would attract a 4.5% tariff, increasing the cost to the consumer. In an industry where margins are wafer-thin, that sort of tariff may cause significant damage to the sector. The SMMT’s position is clear. It has stated:

“Should the UK and the EU no longer have a customs union arrangement, UK businesses exporting to EU27 countries would need to submit information about the origin of the product, the destination country, relevant commodity codes, Customs Procedure Codes, product value, a unique consignment number, as well as relevant safety and security information. This would represent a significant increase in bureaucracy, and undermine the competitiveness of British business. Compliance with these new requirements would be particularly challenging for SMEs that make over 90% of the automotive supply chain.”

The components industry and the highly integrated supply chain are crucial to this debate. Currently, an estimated 1,100 trucks from the European Union deliver components worth £35 million to UK car engine plants every day. The movement of those vehicles and the timeliness of their departure and arrival is crucial—every minute counts. However, about 78,000 people are employed in the supply chain here in the UK, supplying not just the UK but Europe. The sector is highly integrated with the rest of Europe in the case of both finished cars and component parts. For instance, the UK imported just under £14 billion of vehicle engines and other components in 2017, 79% of which came from the EU. Some may ask, “Why can’t we transfer more of that back to the UK?” The complication is in scale, the strength of businesses and where they need to be located, and the geography of supply.

The manufacturers’ trade body, and the automotive trade body, the SMMT, have both called on the Government to protect that close integration. The financial reality of the chain’s fragility is underlined by the fact that some manufacturers face costs of up to £1 million an hour if production is stopped due to a delay in the supply of components to the assembly line. The SMMT estimates that a 15-minute delay to parts delivered just in time can cost manufacturers just under £1 million a year.

Let me give two examples. The manufacture of a single Delphi fuel injector takes more than 35 components, requiring 100 processes, and the elements for that come from 15 countries. The injector goes through 39 UK-EU border crossings and five UK-customs union border crossings. Another example is the Mini crankshaft, which crosses the channel three times in a 2,000 mile journey before a finished car rolls off the production line. The casting is made in France before being transferred to Hams Hall back in the midlands, where it is crafted into shape. Those pieces are then sent to Munich and inserted into an engine, which is then sent to Mini’s plant in Oxford, where it is installed in a car.

Related to all of that is the importance of type approvals, a much overlooked area that can add significant cost. One engine supplier—I will not mention its name—has estimated that, if we do not have harmonisation with Europe, it will cost between £300,000 and £500,000 per vehicle certification. In fact, the CBI noted that the two areas where convergence with the EU is of the greatest importance are the rules that determine how and by whom vehicles can be approved as safe for the road, and the Vehicle Certification Agency maintaining its ability to approve vehicles for the European market. It also mentioned maintaining pan-European rules on carbon dioxide and other air pollutants to ensure that international targets on clean air and climate change are met.

That brings me to diesel. In the early 2000s, the drive to achieve climate change goals led to the rapid uptake of diesel: from 17% of the total car market, it grew to 50% in just eight years. The manufacturers responded. Ford set up its Dagenham diesel centre, which I think employs 3,000 staff and provides for 50% of all of its global diesel production. Then came the Volkswagen dieselgate scandal and subsequently the demonisation of diesel, which has led to a 33% drop in diesel sales so far this year. Once more, manufacturers have sought to respond where they have seen a lack of leadership, in this case perhaps from policy makers. Ford introduced a diesel scrappage scheme, as certain other manufacturers have done, and since September it has taken 21,000 vehicles off the road. The programme has been so successful that it was extended beyond December, when it was due to close, and is still running.

A tax on diesel was announced in the November 2017 Budget, with an increase in vehicle excise duty by one band and on benefit in kind by an additional 1% for all diesel vehicles. Some would say that that is kicking an industry when it is already struggling. The taxing of vehicles based on such a legislative standard has yet to be finalised or introduced by the EU; it is unprecedented and unrealistic. I suggest that the measure is counter- productive and merely makes worse the problem it seeks to solve. People are holding off buying new diesel vehicles and keeping on using older, polluting vehicles. Of course, the reduction in—or lack of—support for the diesel industry does not take into account the many hundreds of millions of pounds that it has already invested in manufacture, responding to the Government’s policy direction of five to 10 years ago.

Today’s diesels are the cleanest yet, having the same nitrous oxide and particulate emissions as petrol and 20% lower CO2 emissions. To put it into context, it would take at least six of today’s new diesel cars to emit the same nitrous oxides as one vehicle put on the road just two years ago. The focus should therefore be on getting older vehicles off the road, not on penalising customers who wish to buy newer, cleaner diesels. Of course, the swing to petrol means a collective failure to meet our carbon dioxide targets. Hon. Members will know that we are now seeing an uptick in carbon dioxide emissions for the first time in 15 years.

We see challenging issues in our deliberations over Brexit and the trading arrangements we face. That is best exemplified by the profound challenges faced by the automotive industry, one of our most successful industries. The industry has seen a renaissance, which was seriously damaged by the global financial crash, but it managed to sustain itself, and since then we have seen huge inward investment by various manufacturers, which has contributed to a 50% increase in manufacturing share, almost 10 years of steady growth and a consequent almost 30% increase in direct manufacturing employment in the sector, notwithstanding the growth in component suppliers.

The industry also faces the challenge of transitioning to cleaner fuels and a super-low-carbon future, and that is being disrupted by the uncertainty of Brexit and Government policy that seeks to penalise cleaner diesel-powered vehicles. It is currently one of the great paradoxes that, in seeking to improve air quality, the Government have managed to reverse the progress achieved over many years in reducing carbon dioxide emissions. As Mike Hawes, the chief executive of the SMMT, put it:

“The industry shares Government’s vision of a low-carbon future and is investing to get us there, but we can’t do it overnight;
nor can we do it alone. The anti-diesel agenda has set back progress on climate change, while electric vehicle demand remains disappointingly low amid consumer concerns around charging infrastructure availability and affordability.

To accelerate fleet renewal, motorists must have the confidence to invest in the cleanest cars for their needs, however they are powered. A consistent approach to incentives and tax and greater investment in charging infrastructure will be critical. Now more than ever, we need a strategy that allows manufacturers time to invest, innovate and sell competitively, and which gives consumers every incentive to adapt.”

That is all the industry seeks: a controlled, orderly, managed transition from one system to the other. Regarding Brexit, it simply wants both clarity and certainty urgently.

Many are calling on the Government to act now to reduce the effects of diesel taxation on the newest, cleanest diesel vehicles and amend the carbon dioxide bands to reduce the impact of new emissions standards on consumer vehicle excise duty. Failure to do so will threaten the future success and sustainability of businesses and the significant contribution that the sector makes to jobs and the UK economy. The orderly, managed transition I described is essential to enable the manufacturers to use their revenues today to invest in our tomorrow. Without that support, the sector could be seriously damaged in its need to compete with the likes of China who have the scale and state backing to invest in newer technologies.

We have grown used to having a successful industry that contributes greatly not just to our international trade but to our global manufacturing prestige. We would be fools not to support it.