Dreams for a UK battery industry ruined by government, says Britishvolt co-founder

The co-founder of collapsed battery manufacturer Britishvolt has said Britain’s window of opportunity to build a gigafactory economy has been missed.

Orral Nadjari placed blame upon the government and Rishi Sunak in his first interview since Britishvolt went under with Sky News.

He said: “We lost that window of opportunity.

“We already are behind East Asia. We’re already behind continental Europe. The UK, unfortunately, has lost out or is losing out on the gigafactory economy, which is massive in terms of job creation.

“Unfortunately we didn’t see that same support from the Conservative government in order to level up the North East. Because the North East wasn’t as important for them as maybe other places in this country”. 

Britishvolt was named a “pioneering” firm by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson. It went into administration in January, after failing to secure sufficient equity investment for both the ongoing research it was undertaking and the development of a £200m site in the Midlands and a £3.8bn gigafactory in the North East of England.

Nadari alleged to Sky News that whilst the Government had made a £100m commitment to bring forward a £1.7bn sale and leaseback of the Britishvolt property in Blyth, the paperwork to finalise the deal sat on the then Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s desk for months before being approved.

He claims that thanks to that delay, it meant the firm had to raise funds during a period of war, rising inflation and turbulence in government with three different prime ministers and four chancellors. 

A spokesperson for the government said Nadari’s claims are “completely untrue”.

They said: “These claims are completely untrue. Taxpayer money must always be used responsibly which is why full due diligence was undertaken before a final grant offer was made.

“The grant offer, which was welcomed and accepted by the company, included an agreement that funds could only be drawn when agreed milestones are met, such as those on securing private investment. Unfortunately, these conditions were not met, and despite significant engagement from government, a solution was not found.

“The government remains committed to Levelling Up across the UK and is actively engaging with companies to secure investments that will ensure the UK remains a world leader in automotive manufacturing”.

Rumours had milled about how responsibly Britishvolt was being run by its senior team. Stories such as the use of private jets, a mansion for executives near Blyth and yoga lessons came to light following its collapse. 

Nadjari said to Sky News: “Having a wellness instructor as a preventative measure for people’s health is economical. To be able to do that virtually for 300 people at a low cost of roughly £2,000 to £3,000 a month – that is very economical.

“There was no misappropriation of funds because not a single penny was spent on a private jet. £100,000 went to, as you say, a ‘mansion’… but it was a large house. And if you look at the cost of renting a hotel room for that many people during that period of time, it was far more economical to rent a house.

“The fact that it happened to have a pool, that wasn’t working for 18 months by the way, has nothing to do with it.”

The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee launched an inquiry into the supply of batteries for electric vehicle manufacturing, following the collapse of Britishvolt.

The inquiry is currently looking at the viability of battery manufacturing in the UK as Chinese-backed Envision’s site in Sunderland is Britain’s only manufacturer.

Evidence was given at a meeting on May 9, with a further meeting on May 23. 

The government has set 2030 as the date that will see the end of petrol and diesel car manufacturing, but with only one site operational, there are huge concerns that this target is achievable.