BUSINESS secretary Greg Clark and Swindon Borough Council have backed a fightback by unions to keep Honda producing cars in Swindon.

The business secretary chaired a task force meeting at Polaris House yesterday with councillors, union bosses, and businesses, to respond to the announcement that Honda plans to close the plant in South Marston by 2021.

Union representatives from Unite vowed to fight the decision by Honda in order to save 3,500, jobs.

Andy Foster, a union representative and worker on the assembly line for 20 years, said “We are not going to lay down and take the factory closure.

“We are putting a case forward to save Honda. We are not talking about redundancies, let’s talk about saving the plant.

“Swindon will be destroyed. It’s not just 3,500 jobs in the factory, it could be 10,000 or more.

“People feel like the world is ending, it was like a morgue in there yesterday morning. You had some people coming in in tears.”

Business secretary Greg Clark said he wanted to make a case for a future for Honda, and other manufacturers of electric vehicles, in Swindon.

He told the Advertiser: “I completely agree with the unions, there has to be a consultation on the closure that they’ve announced. I think we should use that opportunity to make the case to Honda for continued investment.

“They’ve clearly made a decision in principal, and they say that’s what they want to do, but I think the unions are right we should not accept that as being totally inevitable.

“We should make the rational case for investment here so I’m with them on that.

“But it’s only sensible and prudent that we beat the drum for Swindon for other employers who cold come and create good jobs that can last for many years in the future at the same time. And I think we need to do both.

“We want to work with the workforce and the business community in Swindon to make the case for further investment in Swindon, including by Honda.

“The taskforce that has been established has made a commitment to promote and seek investors to come into the town and if Honda do vacate the site, which is a fantastically located and modern facility, that also has a famously skilled workforce, I hope that will be attractive to them.”

Swindon borough councillors have backed calls to keep Honda in Swindon and will amend a cross-party motion to include the union's proposal.

Leader of Swindon Borough Council David Renard said: “There was a very impassioned presentation by Unite about how this was not a done deal.

“They are determined to lobby Honda in Japan in order to keep the plant open here.

“For myself I can say that the council will be behind the union’s strategy. If we can persuade Honda to use the Swindon plant to manufacture electric cars then that’s the best possible outcome.”

Coun Renard added that having read Honda’s business reasons for announcing the closure that it may be a tall order and said the local authority had a lot it could do to try and “make the landing, if the worst come to the worst, as soft as possible.

“We have experience of doing this, when we set up a taskforce a few years ago when Honda wanted to release workers," he added.

“We’ll be looking at our inward investment team and working with the government, and the chambers of commerce and the local enterprise partnership to get that message out to other employers that the skills they need are here in Swindon."

Labour councillor Jim Grant said: “I’m pleased to see the task force has backed Unite’s determination to keep Honda manufacturing at the Swindon plant and has agreed to try and make the case for that to the company.

“If that’s not possible then it’s important that it also does what it can to mitigate the worst effects of the plant being closed.”

Steve Turner, Unite assistant general secretary, said: "We heard today that we will be given that support from the business secretary, Greg Clark MP and we will be taking him at his word on this.

"We need central government, local and regional authorities, as well as innovative supply chain partners to join us in developing a viable alternative plan that maintains both Honda in Swindon and the UK automotive industry as a jewel in the crown of UK manufacturing."

"In doing so, we will be sending a clear message back to Japan that we are not giving up on our plant and we will not let Honda give up on it either.

“Honda, do not turn your back on this plant, its loyal, skilled workforce or the superb integrated supply chain. Honda can thrive in the UK not just supplying European markets, but as a global leader exporting a world class product across the globe."