Swindon politicians confident about future despite Honda closure

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image captionHonda's Swindon factory is due to close in 2021

The main political parties in Swindon have expressed confidence in the town's future despite Honda announcing plans to close its car plant.

In February the Japanese carmaker said it would shut the South Marston site in 2021 with the loss of about 3,500 jobs.

A cross-party task group at the local authority wants to persuade Honda bosses to reconsider the closure plans.

But members said if the site did close they hoped Honda workers would find other skilled employment in the town.

Honda is currently consulting on the proposal with its associates and their representatives.

'Number of offers'

Conservative council leader David Renard said: "We've got two years to plan this and work it through. I'm confident a lot of those people will find jobs locally.

"It's too early to say at the moment but we have had a number of offers from a large range of companies keen to take on people from the Honda plant.

"Swindon is well-known for things like telecommunications, finance and pharmaceuticals, and employers are always telling us they are looking for skilled workers."

The Conservatives run the council by a narrow majority - they have 29 of the 57 seats, Labour have 24 and the Lib Dems have two. There are also two independents who both were Labour members until recently.

'Fast-growing economy'

Councillor Jim Grant, leader of Swindon's Labour group, said: "We've not given up on trying to persuade Honda to stay in Swindon and those discussions are ongoing. In the event that doesn't work out I will be very disappointed.

"We're told that Swindon is a fast-growing economy and dynamic private sector, so if we can't find the equivalent of the current skill level of jobs that pertain in Honda, we will be failing the people of Swindon.

"I think it's incumbent on the council and central government to ensure that those jobs are found in Swindon."

media captionLocal elections: What are they all about?

Swindon local elections 2019

Analysis by BBC Wiltshire political reporter Dan O'Brien

The Conservatives have run Swindon Borough Council since 2004, but on 2 May they're defending the narrowest of majorities.

If they lose just one seat, the council falls into no overall control. Labour are the only other party with the numbers to possibly win control, but also think they'd manage to govern without a majority if they can persuade the town's small contingent of Liberal Democrats and Independents to back them up.

Nineteen of the borough's 57 seats are up for grabs this time. Labour and the Conservatives are standing in all 19, while the Liberal Democrats, Greens and UKIP are all fielding about a dozen candidates. There's just the one independent this year, in the Penhill area.

For all the two main parties are trying to focus on local issues, both tell me they're worried Brexit is dominating conversations on the doorstep - and could put some off voting altogether.

Stan Pajak, the Liberal Democrat council group leader, added: "Inevitably there will be consequences of this, and we have to look to the future and what could that site be used for."

Mr Pajak dismissed suggestions it could be repurposed as a distribution depot, saying: "I'd like to see a manufacturing plant of some type."


Elsewhere, UKIP's Martin Costello suggested lobbying Wiltshire inventor Sir James Dyson to take over the Honda plant and "update it and start to build his electric car here".

Dyson recently announced he would be moving his company's base from Malmesbury to Singapore to be closer to its fastest growing markets.

Mr Costello added: "He's got a fantastic workforce at hand that's very highly-skilled, so it's a no brainer."

And Green Party councillor Paul Sunners described the Green New Deal energy saving programme proposed by Green MP Caroline Lucas as a "great opportunity" for Swindon.

image captionIn March, hundreds of workers marched through the town in protest at the closure

He said he believed it could be used "to regenerate the town and to utilise those highly-skilled workers that we have at Honda".

Alan Tomala, from the Unite union, said it would continue to work with the council "to explore alternative options to utilise the plant and establish if there is any viable third party interest in the plant and whether the existing workforce could be employed in any such viable options".

"Failing that we would explore options of how best the workforce within the plant and local supply chain could be reskilled," he added.

Business Secretary Greg Clark has said he would continue to try to persuade Honda to reverse its decision.

He said: "I will continue to work jointly with associates, the trade unions, suppliers, Swindon Council, local MPs and the whole local community to make a joint case that is compelling and shows with evidence that this decision should be reversed."

In March, hundreds of workers marched through the town urging the company not to close the plant.

The Japanese company builds 160,000 Honda Civics a year in Swindon - its only car factory in the EU.

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