Union blames Government inaction for redundancy threat at bus manufacturer

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A union is blaming a lack of progress by the Government in releasing cash for British-made ‘green’ zero emission buses for a potential 15 job losses at Switch Mobility in Leeds.

The union Unite warns Switch Mobility, a producer of mass-transit buses – previously known as Optare – says it is consulting on a number of redundancies as it will have “a limited order book in a challenging market” at the end of this month.

Unite, which represents members at the plant in Sherburn in Elmet, has called on ministers to release monies from the Green Bus Fund to secure bus manufacturing at the site, following Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s pledge in March to purchase 4,000 British-made zero emission buses as part of a £3bn investment in England’s bus network.

The Government’s Department for Transport (Dft) has responded that those areas which have won bids for shares of this funding will be revealed next month.

Unite national officer, Steve Bush, said: “Switch Mobility’s announcement that it is planning a number of redundancies is a heavy blow for our members and their families, as well as for the West Yorkshire economy and the UK’s manufacturing base generally.

“Unite believes this grim news is a direct result of the Government’s lack of willingness to release monies from the Green Bus Fund.

“We call on ministers to free up the necessary funds to enable bus operators to buy new ‘green’ vehicles, and keep British manufacturers operating and workers in jobs.

“Flesh needs to be put on the bones of the Prime Minister’s announcement of a ‘green bus revolution’, otherwise it will just become another ‘levelling up’ promise from Boris Johnson that turns out to be a mirage.

“The company has invested in the production of an electric bus that our cities and communities are crying out for to ensure a ‘greener’ public transport landscape in the decades ahead.

“As a country, we can’t afford to lose such skilled jobs which are the lifeblood for our future prosperity.”

The Dft spokesman said: “The £120m Zero Emission Bus Regional Areas (ZEBRA) scheme was launched in March, enabling local transport authorities to bid for funding to introduce zero emission buses, and the infrastructure needed to support them.

“The winning fast track ZEBRA areas are set to be announced next month, with funding which will help lower emissions, improve air quality and reduce noise pollution.”

A Switch Mobility spokesman said: “Given the challenges Switch and the wider industry has faced during COVID-19, the ongoing impact this has had on bus operators and the resulting lack of orders, we have to closely manage staffing levels in line with business production levels.

“After all efforts were made to minimise the impact on the business, including working our hardest to improve our current position to close on potential orders and releasing the relevant subcontractor and agency workforce, unfortunately we have had to make the difficult decision to consider a number of redundancies [in our Production team] through a voluntary redundancy consultation.

“We are very conscious of the implications of this announcement and understand this creates uncertainty.

“We have been focused on safeguarding jobs since the beginning of the pandemic, furloughing staff and topping up salaries to 100% pay.

“We have avoided making headcount reductions until now, in contrast to many of our competitors.

“However, these changes have become necessary in order to create a long-term sustainable solution for our business.”