Birmingham MP warns 114,000 motor industry jobs could go overseas

A Birmingham MP has said the West Midlands motor industry is ‘mission critical’ with 114,000 future jobs hanging in the balance due to competition from Europe.

Liam Byrne warned that rapid progress needs to be made on a planned ‘gigafactory’ making batteries for electric vehicles before ground is lost to rival projects on the continent.

The Labour candidate for West Midlands Mayor claimed that job creation at the facility and in the wider supply chain would be hit unless decisions are taken within weeks.

The giant factory would be in the engine room of a proposed ‘green revolution’ taking the automotive industry into a new era of environmentally-friendly transport.

Mr Byrne has published a report showing that the UK is in a race against time with EU countries to build the factory. It claims that if the UK loses out, it may result in the jobs being lost by 2040.

He spoke today as he prepared to meet union representatives at GKN, a car parts factory in Birmingham which is set to close with up to 519 jobs at risk.

Mr Byrne told ‘It’s mission critical that the Government begins building now.

‘Forty per cent of the UK’s exports are made here in the West Midlands and our car industry is critical to that. The Government has said that all new petrol and diesel cars will be phased out by 2030. That means we need a revolution in manufacturing electric vehicles.

‘But you can’t manufacture electric vehicles unless you have got a battery factory, and they take about five to six years to build. Unless we break ground soon, we are going to be too late.

‘The risk is we lose a hundred and fourteen thousand automotive jobs if the big car makers decide to move their plants to the battery factories that are already up and running in Europe.’

The Shadow Mayor for the West Midlands joined Steve Turner, Assistant General Secretary at Unite, and Jim O’Boyle, Coventry City Council’s Cabinet Member for Jobs & Regeneration, in writing a letter to the Chancellor outlining the concerns.

They say that despite £500million being allocated by the Government to develop gigafactories in the Midlands and North East, there has been no detail on the process for selecting a manufacturer in their region.

The leaders want more clarity ahead of the Budget on March 3, ‘so planning can accelerate and the industry has the certainty it needs’.

Mr Byrne said: ‘Right now, Europe has either built or is building 16 gigafactories whereas we have only got a tiny one by the Nissan plant in Sunderland. Whereas France and Germany are putting in place nearly two billion Euros for battery manufacturing, we have not actually spent very much at all.

‘When you look across Europe, Germany already has fifty per cent of European output of batteries. If we don’t get our act together we are going to miss out on something like twelve billion pounds of investment in battery technology.

‘Because the battery is forty per cent of the value of an electric vehicle and because it’s heavy and difficult to move around, the car-making factories will move to where the batteries are made, rather than the other way around.

‘Unless we have got a big factory in the middle of the Midlands, we imperil the car makers we have got.’

Mr Byrne, MP for Hodge Hill, wants the gigafactory to be built on the Coventry Airport site, one of five or six such facilities he says is needed keep the UK in the vanguard of the automotive industry.

He said: ‘The plan we are putting forward is for the West Midlands to become the capital of green manufacturing.

‘We think we should be making the electric vehicles, the zero carbon railways, the jet zeroes [emissions] of the future.

‘It should be the green workshop of the world and unless we make the right decisions quickly we’ll become an also-ran and countries like France and Germany will steam ahead of us.’

Frailties in the automotive industry have been underlined by the news that 519 jobs are at risk with the proposed closure of the GKN automotive factory in Erdington, Birmingham.

Automotive giants in the region, including Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), have previously had to make redundancies or furlough staff due to the impact of the pandemic on the global supply chain.

Andy Street, the current West Midlands Mayor, told BusinessLive that rapid progress is being made in turning the gigafactory into reality, with talks underway with potential manufacturers.

He said: ‘This wasn’t going to happen immediately.

‘There are people working now on the location, working on what’s needed and, most crucially, working with JLR on who will be the suppliers.’

Mr Street, who is seeking re-election, also pointed to the securing of the £130million UK Battery Industrialisation Centre in Coventry, which will help to develop the technology, as a critical step in the process.

The gigafactory is likely to be a major debating point in the run-up to the region’s mayoral polls in May, with Jenny Wilkinson standing for the Lib Dems and Steve Caudwell for the Green Party.

A Government spokesperson said: ‘We are investing heavily to expand the UK’s supply chain for cleaner vehicles, while working with our auto industry to ensure it remains competitive for years to come.

‘As part of the Prime Minister’s Ten Point Plan, we recently announced £500million – as part of a wider commitment of up to £1billion – to support the electrification of vehicles and their supply chains, including developing gigafactories in the UK.

‘We remain dedicated to securing UK gigafactories, and continue to work with investors to progress plans to mass manufacture the batteries needed for the next generation of electric vehicles.’

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