Nissan's Sunderland plant. Photo: PA
The government has been accused of “copy and pasting” Nissan’s demands to keep the Japanese car giant in the UK after the vote to quit the European Union.
The Times has seen correspondence from Paul Willcox, chairman of Nissan Europe to the business secretary, Greg Clark, in which he detailed demands for the car manufacturer to commit to building a new model of vehicle at its plant in Sunderland.
According to the paper announcements and spending commitments by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy since the letter was sent correlate with some of the demands and helped Nissan.
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The Liberal Democrats claimed that it shows the government “has no real industrial strategy” and is having to “bow to every demand” to keep jobs in Britain after Brexit.
Nissan confirmed in October that it would build the next generation of Qashqai vehicles in Sunderland – an announcement that Theresa May hailed as a “vote of confidence” in Britain’s economy.
Business secretary Greg Clark insisted that no financial guarantees had been made in order to win the investment, saying that “assurances” were given that “gave confidence”.
‘BOW TO DEMANDS’
In his October letter to Clark, Willcox highlights a project to ensure batteries used in electric cars built by Nissan “have a sustainable second life as storage systems in homes and offices”.
“Storage allows people to store energy when tariffs are cheaper to use for free during peak hours,” the letter said.
In a press release it was announced last month by Innovate UK, which is overseen by the BIES, that the government was investing in “exploring how old Nissan electric vehicle batteries can be used to store peak electricity from UK homes”.
The agency said this was one of 12 projects which would share £18m to develop ideas, with Nissan as a key partner, which would allow a “50-unit, 12-month trial led by Powervault”, the Times reports.
The letter also pointed to two “primary areas” in which the government could assist the company: changing the planning framework to make it a requirement for large residential developments to have electric charging points and to force councils to ensure they are operational and accessible.
The letter added: “It may be helpful to look at the German model: A €1bn national programme to promote electric vehicles includes €330m specifically allocated for infrastructure funding.”
Back in October, a government press release said it would offer grants to support the wider use of electric hybrid vehicles.
Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said: “The government have just copy and pasted Nissan’s demands and turned it into a press release. This saga shows the government has no real industrial policy and is having to bow to every demand to keep vital manufacturing jobs in Britain post-Brexit.”
Last year Clark confirmed that he had issued a letter to Nissan laying out the government’s assurances, and revealed the contents of that message – though it has never been released.
There were four central points, he said. They were: funding for training and skills; the regeneration of areas near the Sunderland plant to support small and medium-sized firms in Nissan’s supply chain; a continued commitment that the UK would be at the “leading edge of research and development”; and the goals of the Brexit negotiation.
“They were the assurances that gave the confidence, I’m delighted to say, that allowed these jobs to be safeguarded and enhanced,” he told the BBC.
“A lot of these apply to the industry generally. Of course, if you think about an industrial strategy we’re developing, you need to build on your strengths; the automotive sector is one of our great strengths in this country, so of course part of our strategy – how could it be otherwise? – is to keep it.”