Wiltshire business leaders react to Honda announcement

By Ben Carey on 20 February, 2019

Business leaders across the region have reacted to this week’s news that Honda will close its Swindon car plant with the loss of 3,500 jobs.

The Japanese company, which builds 160,000 Honda Civics a year in Swindon, confirmed the plant will close in 2021.

In a statement Honda said the move was due to global changes in the car industry and the need to launch electric vehicles.

The 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.”

Ruth Lambert, FSB Development Manager for Wiltshire and Somerset, raised concerns about the wider implications of the closure. She said, “The planned closure of the Honda plant is not only devastating for the skilled workforce employed there, but a very worrying time for all the small businesses throughout Honda’s supply chain, and especially local firms in the surrounding area.

“Across the region there’s a huge network of businesses throughout the supply chain that will be impacted by the closure and will now be very concerned about their futures.

“From caterers and cleaners, to nearby cafes, thousands of small businesses also rely heavily on the Swindon plant and this announcement will be incredibly unsettling for them.

“Businesses throughout the supply chain must be given guidance and be kept fully aware of the situation.”

Ian Larrard, Director of Swindon and Wiltshire Initiative at Business West, said that Brexit had likely been one of many contributing factors in the decision. He said, “It is with great sadness to learn that Honda is set to close its Swindon operation as it ceases production of the Civic model in 2021.

“While at first reading, Brexit uncertainty probably hasn’t helped, it is only one of a number of negative external factors that have created a perfect storm, making this decision inevitable even if the timing has come as a shock.

“The priority now is to ensure all those who may be made redundant are helped to find work. Business West has provided support packages in the past and we’re ready to do so again when needed.

“On a positive note, the local economy remains robust and there is a strong jobs market, with the private sector looking to help employ not just engineers but the many skilled associates at Honda who may lose their jobs.”

Green MEP for the region, Molly Scott Cato, added, “This news represents a terrible day for the 3,500 workers at the Swindon plant and their families and my thoughts are with them at this worrying time. Concerns about businesses leaving the UK in the event of Brexit were expressed before the referendum and since the Brexit result. Japanese manufacturing businesses have been quite clear about the risk to their business model from leaving the customs union. But a decision to close a state-of-the-art factory with the sunk costs it represents is still a shocking one.

“This is the day that will be remembered as the day project fear became Brexit reality, the day when the true scale of the social and economic costs of leaving the EU hit hard in the South West. A majority in Swindon voted to leave the EU based on promises that their jobs were safe. Now that we know what Brexit means in reality they, and we all, have a right to think again.”

Richard Mathews, CEO of Swindon-based accountancy and law firm Optimum Professional Services, said that while the news was a blow to Swindon it also presented a long-term opportunity.

He said, “There will of course be uncertainty and concern among the Honda employees, and the associated businesses in the area that are suppliers but hopefully this cloud has a silver lining.

“Longer term this could be an opportunity for Swindon. Currently, with little unemployment in the area, recruiting skilled professionals is proving difficult for other businesses. Without Honda, employers will have access to a larger pool of potential jobseekers.

“The Honda site itself should prove very attractive for other larger manufacturers, who will move into the town and offer employment.”

Pictured above: Ian Larrard, Director of Swindon and Wiltshire Initiative at Business West