Five questions answered on Honda’s jobs losses announcement

Axing 800 members of staff.

Car manufacturer Honda today announced it plans to scale down its work force in the UK. We answer five questions on the latest job losses at the car giant.

How many jobs will be lost at Honda?

Honda is planning on axing 800 members of its staff at its Swindon plant. This is the first time Honda has cut jobs in the UK since 1992.

A 90 day consultation period on the job cuts has now begun.

Why is Honda axing these jobs?

Japanese Honda is blaming weak demand in Europe, saying that demand for cars in the has region dropped by one million in the past year.

At the Swindon plant they built 166,000 cars in 2012, well below the capacity of 250,000. About 40 per cent of the cars produced in Swindon are sold in the UK.

The job losses shock comes after Honda announced a £267m investment in the UK in September last year.

What has Honda said?

In a press release Ken Keir, Executive Vice President, Honda Motor Europe, said:

 “Honda remains fully committed for the long-term to its UK and European manufacturing operations. However, these conditions of sustained low industry demand require us to take difficult decisions.

“We are setting the business constitution at the right level to ensure long term stability and security”

What are others saying?

Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders chief executive Paul Everitt told the BBC:

"Despite challenges brought by weak European demand, the longer-term prospects for the UK automotive sector remain good.”

Adding: “We hope that those affected will be able to take advantage of the opportunities we know exist throughout the UK sector and its supply chain."

What’s the general picture for the motor industry in the UK and Europe?

Figures from the SMMT earlier in the week showed that UK new car registrations had actually increased by 5.3 per cent in 2012 to 2,044 cars – the highest number since 2008.

SMMT figures also revealed that 54,208 Hondas were registered in the UK last year, up 7.2 per cent from 2011.

However, latest figures on car registration from the European Automobile Manufacturers' Association (ACEA) revealed that in the first 11 months of 2012, 131,346 Hondas were registered in Europe – down 6.2 per cent from the same period last year.

Peugeot also said its global sales have fallen sharply.

Further painting a bleak picture for the European motor industry is other ACEA statistics that reveal car registrations in Greece were down 41 per cent in the first 11 months of 2012. Portugal was also down by 37 per cent and Italy down by 20 per cent.

Honda will cut jobs. Photograph: Getty Images

Heidi Vella is a features writer for Nridigital.com

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Lord Empey: Northern Ireland likely to be without government for a year

The former UUP leader says Gerry Adams is now in "complete control" of Sinn Fein and no longer wants to be "trapped" by the Good Friday Agreement

The death of Martin McGuinness has made a devolution settlement in Northern Ireland even more unlikely and has left Gerry Adams in "complete control" of Sinn Fein, the former Ulster Unionist leader Reg Empey has said.

In a wide-ranging interview with the New Statesman on the day of McGuinness’ death, the UUP peer claimed his absence would leave a vacuum that would allow Adams, the Sinn Fein president, to consolidate his hold over the party and dictate the trajectory of the crucial negotiations to come. Sinn Fein have since pulled out of power-sharing talks, leaving Northern Ireland facing the prospect of direct rule from Westminster or a third election in the space of a year. 

Empey, who led the UUP between and 2005 and 2010 and was briefly acting first minister in 2001, went on to suggest that, “as things stand”, Northern Ireland is unlikely to see a return to fully devolved government before the inquiry into the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme is complete -  a process which could take up to a year to complete.

“Adams is now in complete control of Sinn Fein,” he said, adding that it remained unclear whether McGuinness’ successor Michelle O’Neill would be “allowed to plough an independent furrow”. “He has no equal within the organisation. He is in total command of Sinn Fein, and that is the way it is. I think he’s even more powerful today than he was before Martin died – by virtue of there just being nobody there.”

Asked what impact the passing of McGuinness, the former deputy first minister and leader of Sinn Fein in the north, would have on the chances of a devolution settlement, Empey, a member of the UUP’s Good Friday Agreement negotiating delegation, said: “I don’t think it’ll be positive – because, for all his faults, Martin was committed to making the institutions work. I don’t think Gerry Adams is as committed.

Empey added that he believed Adams did not want to work within the constitutional framework of the Good Friday Agreement. In a rebuke to nationalist claims that neither Northern Ireland secretary James Brokenshire nor Theresa May can act as honest or neutral brokers in power-sharing negotiations given their reliance on the DUP’s eight MPs, he said: “They’re not neutral. And they’re not supposed to be neutral.

“I don’t expect a prime minister or a secretary of state to be neutral. Brokenshire isn’t sitting wearing a hat with ostrich feathers – he’s not a governor, he’s a party politician who believes in the union. The language Sinn Fein uses makes it sound like they’re running a UN mandate... Gerry can go and shout at the British government all he likes. He doesn’t want to be trapped in the constitutional framework of the Belfast Agreement. He wants to move the debate outside those parameters, and he sees Brexit as a chance to mobilise opinion in the republic, and to be seen standing up for Irish interests.”

Empey went on to suggest that Adams, who he suggested exerted a “disruptive” influence on power-sharing talks, “might very well say” Sinn Fein were “’[taking a hard line] for Martin’s memory’” and added that he had been “hypocritical” in his approach.

“He’ll use all of that,” he said. “Republicans have always used people’s deaths to move the cause forward. The hunger strikers are the obvious example. They were effectively sacrificed to build up the base and energise people. But he still has to come to terms with the rest of us.”

Empey’s frank assessment of Sinn Fein’s likely approach to negotiations will cast yet more doubt on the prospect that devolved government might be salvaged before Monday’s deadline. Though he admitted Adams had demanded nothing unionists “should die in a ditch for”, he suggested neither party was likely to cede ground. “If Sinn Fein were to back down they would get hammered,” he said. “If Foster backs down the DUP would get hammered. So I think we’ve got ourselves a catch 22: they’ve both painted themselves into their respective corners.”

In addition, Empey accused DUP leader Arlene Foster of squandering the “dream scenario” unionist parties won at last year’s assembly election with a “disastrous” campaign, but added he did not believe she would resign despite repeated Sinn Fein demands for her to do so.

 “It’s very difficult to see how she’s turned that from being at the top of Mount Everest to being under five miles of water – because that’s where she is,” he said. “She no longer controls the institutions. Martin McGuinness effectively wrote her resignation letter for her. And it’s very difficult to see a way forward. The idea that she could stand down as first minister candidate and stay on as party leader is one option. But she could’ve done that for a few weeks before Christmas and we wouldn’t be here! She’s basically taken unionism from the top to the bottom – in less than a year”.

Though Foster has expressed regret over the tone of the DUP’s much-criticised election campaign and has been widely praised for her decision to attend Martin McGuinness’ funeral yesterday, she remains unlikely to step down, despite coded invitations for her to do so from several members of her own party.

The historically poor result for unionism she oversaw has led to calls from leading loyalists for the DUP and UUP – who lost 10 and eight seats respectively – to pursue a merger or electoral alliance, which Empey dismissed outright.

“The idea that you can weld all unionists together into a solid mass under a single leadership – I would struggle to see how that would actually work in practice. Can you cooperate at a certain level? I don’t doubt that that’s possible, especially with seats here. Trying to amalgamate everybody? I remain to be convinced that that should be the case.”

Accusing the DUP of having “led unionism into a valley”, and of “lashing out”, he added: “They’ll never absorb all of our votes. They can try as hard as they like, but they’d end up with fewer than they have now.”

Patrick Maguire writes about politics and is the 2016 winner of the Anthony Howard Award.