Nick Herbert: vintage times and car industry renaissance

Arundel and South Downs MP Nick Herbert
Arundel and South Downs MP Nick Herbert

Last week I attended the Goodwood Revival, a wonderful evocation of the romantic age of motoring in classic cars. The highlight for me was being driven around the track in a beautiful 1965 Rolls Royce Silver Cloud. My enjoyment was only slightly tempered when I realised that the “vintage” car was younger than me.

Today, Rolls Royce continues to produce luxury cars. The company may now be owned by BMW, but its cars are hand assembled at Rolls Royce’s spectacular new plant at Goodwood, employing hundreds of local people, including apprentices, and successfully exporting its vehicles around the world.

Not so long ago, Britain’s car manufacturing industry was in catastrophic decline. Excessive union power, poor management, low productivity and notoriously bad build quality bedevilled this once great industry.

Today, it has undergone a renaissance. Jaguar’s new SUV concept was a star of the important Frankfurt show this week.

Jaguar Land Rover may be owned by an Indian company, Tata, but it is building cars and creating jobs in Britain. The company said last week that it will pump £1.5 billion into its plant in Solihull, creating 1,700 jobs.

Jaguar Land Rover now employs 11,000 people in Britain, with another 24,000 employed in its supply chain.

The Nissan plant in Sunderland is the most productive car plant in Europe. They now make more cars here than the entire Italian car industry.

In fact, our country has never produced so many cars. This year, we will export more cars than we import for the first time since 1976.

What’s more, UK car production increased last year when Europe’s fell, and is now on track to overtake France by 2018. This would make us the second largest car producer in Europe, after Germany.

This is all a sign of what I wrote about last week - a brighter outlook for British manufacturing. The Engineering Employers’ Federation says that the manufacturing sector is on course for growth of 1.9 per cent next year.

We have rising GDP and falling unemployment, whereas the euro area faces contraction and desperate levels of joblessness.

Just as the sad story of the decline of British car manufacturing in the 1970s epitomised the state of our country then, when we were the “sick man of Europe”, so its transformation today shows how Britain can succeed in the global race.