Union expresses concern for car workers as 2017 registrations decline

Britain’s largest union, Unite has said the UK’s car workers – including the thousands employed in the various supply chains – will view 2018 with trepidation following a fall in the number of new cars being registered.

Figures released by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders show new car registrations fell by 5.7% last year, with declining consumer confidence in the face of uncertainty posed by Brexit.

Approximately 2.54 million new cars were registered in 2017 compared with 2.69 million the previous year.

December saw an even sharper decline of 14.4% with demand for diesels falling by 17.1% over the year amid accusations of damaging government confusion over its policy on diesel cars.

Unite assistant general secretary Tony Burke said: “The latest car registration figures confirm a deeply worrying trend that will leave the UK’s world class car workers looking to the year ahead with trepidation.”

He said the government had caused confusion over its policy towards diesel cars and needed to clarify this to provide surety to both the industry and its workforce.

The union claimed diesel engines produced by Unite members in the UK were the cleanest in the world.

The West Midlands is home to two major engine plants – the Jaguar Land Rover factory at i54, near Wolverhampton, plus the BMW facility at Hams Hall. Diesel engines for JCB’s machines are also produced in the region.

“Ministers’ botched and badly thought through announcements are causing major damage to the industry. Combined with economic and Brexit uncertainty this risks taking the sheen off the jewel in the UK’s manufacturing crown and the 800,000 high skilled jobs it sustains,” added Mr Burke.

“Car workers and manufacturing communities will be looking to the government to get the economy out of the slow lane in the year ahead and provide certainty over the UK’s future trading relationship with Europe in order to unlock stalling car manufacturer investment.

“A failure by ministers to do so will jeopardise the UK’s status as world leader in car manufacturing and undo the hard work of Britain’s car workers.”

Commenting on the 2017 figures, Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said: “The decline in the new car market is concerning but it’s important to remember demand remains at historically high levels. More than 2.5 million people drove away in a new car last year, benefitting from the latest, safest, cleanest and most fuel efficient technology.

“Falling business and consumer confidence is undoubtedly taking a toll, however, and confusing anti-diesel messages have caused many to hesitate before buying a new low emission diesel car. Keeping older vehicles on the road will not only mean higher running costs but will hold back progress towards our environmental goals. Consumers should be encouraged to buy the right car for their lifestyle and driving needs irrespective of fuel type – whether that be petrol, electric, hybrid or diesel as it could save them money.

“2017 has undoubtedly been a very volatile year and the lacklustre economic growth means that we expect a further weakening in the market for 2018. The upside for consumers, however, is some very, very competitive deals.”