Toyota moves to calm fears over Derbyshire plant's future following executive's Brexit comments

This post first appeared on Derby Telegraph. Read the original article.

A Toyota chief insists the company’s Burnaston plant is “here to stay” – despite another executive warning its future was in doubt over Brexit.

On Tuesday, executive vice-president Didier Leroy said there had been a shift in the Government's position and the lack of clarity could leave a “big question mark” over its future spending in the UK.

He said: “A few months ago the Government was saying: ‘We’re sure we’ll be able to negotiate (a deal) without any trade tax’. They are not saying that any more.

“We will not close the [Burnaston] plant tomorrow morning but, if in two to three years, we have to decide some future investments, of course the key point will be the competitiveness of this plant in future.”

Pro-EU Lib Dem MP Tom Brake said he was deeply troubled by Mr Leroy’s comments and that it was clear jobs at the Burnaston factory – where about 2,500 people are employed – were under threat.

Toyota makes the Auris and Avensis models at its Burnaston factory

Toyota makes the Auris and Avensis models at its Burnaston factory

But, now, Toyota Manufacturing UK deputy managing director Tony Walker has attempted to ease fears over the plant’s future by insisting a £240m upgrade of the factory was already under way and that it was “here to stay”.

He said: “It is by being competitive that we secure our future. That means building high-quality cars, with high productivity and low cost. Didier Leroy is on record as saying that our plant efficiency is very good and that he and top management trust and respect our member’s skills, motivation and capabilities.

"At Burnaston, we are all committed and working hard to continuously enhance our competitiveness, so that we can have a long term future for our plant.

"The investment of £240 million to prepare the plant for the introduction of the new TNGA platform vehicles is going ahead as planned.

"We would like to be clear, nothing has changed. With this investment, and our members' capabilities, we are committed to achieving the competitiveness which will enable us to continue making cars at Burnaston long into the future."

An aerial view of Toyota's Burnaston factory pictured in 2009

An aerial view of Toyota's Burnaston factory pictured in 2009

When Toyota announced plans to invest £240 million in its Burnaston plant in March, the car giant called for continued tariff and barrier-free access between the UK and Europe.

Mr Leroy expressed his concerns about the Government’s approach to Brexit in an interview with Reuters at the Frankfurt car show.

“It’s clear that, if we have to wait two to three more years to have clarity on this topic, we will have a big question mark about our future investment in the country.”

Mr Leroy, Toyota’s top foreign executive, said the company could not wait indefinitely before deciding whether to build a new model at the site after production of the Avensis model ends. Burnaston also builds the smaller Auris.

“We cannot take this kind of decision before we have clarity on the future trade relationship,” said Mr Leroy.

Labour’s Chris Williamson, who represents Derby North, said the comments should be taken “very seriously”.

He said that the unique selling point that former Labour Derbyshire County Council leader David Bookbinder used to lure Toyota to Derbyshire in the first place was access to the single market.

Derby North MP Chris Williamson

Derby North MP Chris Williamson

Mr Williamson said: “It’s a concern. I don’t think you can afford to sit back and say they’re just crying wolf. We’ve got to take it very seriously.

“What we (Labour) have said is that the way we would negotiate is to make sure we secure tax-free access to the single-market after we come out of the EU.”

Labour would keep the UK in the EU single market and customs union for a transitional period after leaving the EU.

Mr Williamson said: “The Government has made a completely chaotic car crash out of the Brexit negotiation so far. We are six months after Article 50 was enacted and we don’t seem to be any further forward in reaching a settlement that will work for most people in the country. That’s why we’ve called for the transition period.”

Asked whether he expected concerns like Toyota’s to be raised by other big Derby firms, he said “everyone in industry is going to be concerned about the future”.

Mr Williamson said: “We are in uncharted territory. I campaigned for us to stay in the European Union but the vote went the way it did and I fully accept the result. Now the focus needs to be on insuring we get a Brexit that works in the interests of the many, not the few.”