Hawkins admits that the loss of Honda con- tracts is a “critical issue” for suppliers, despite help given to themto explore selling their prod- ucts to other businesses. Mr Renard says that some companies in the

supply chain will be able to diversify, but a few were “totally dependent” on Honda’s plant. “We’re going to make sure that as many of

those companies survive the transition as pos- sible. I’m confident that the vast majority of themwill have a bright future,” he says. But for some companies, such as TS Tech,

which supplied car seats to Honda’s assembly line, the plant closure has already led to job losses. Alan Kimber, a former software devel- oper at TS Tech, says staff numbers were signifi- cantly reduced at the company’s Swindon site, with many of his colleagues worried about their future. But he has turned this “sad” situation into

an opportunity. After taking a three-day course run by YTKO, Mr Kimber is pursuing a passion project by opening a new club called Merlin’s Pool Hall in the nearby townof Marlborough. “Warehouse contracts are not going to fill

the void left by these lost manufacturing jobs,” he says. “I think people should use their gener- ous redundancy packages to set up businesses.”

Re-employmentopportunity For Honda workers hesitant to explore entre- preneurial opportunities, there are several companies expanding in Swindon hoping to re- employ them, such as US-based XPO Logistics. Gavin Williams, a managing director of supply chains at XPO’s UK and Ireland operations, affirms that Swindon is an attractive location. “We have valuable job opportunities for peo-

ple in logistics support roles and permanent driver positions. XPO is in a period of growth, with a recent UK acquisition and a large con- tract renewal with Iceland Foods, served by our Swindon distribution centre,” he adds. Swindon-based manufacturers are also try-

ing to leverage the engineering skills left by Honda. Penny Grobler, the HR director at Recycling Technologies, which is setting up a manufacturing plant to transform waste plas- tics near to Honda’s site, says that Honda’s skilled workers have a lot of transferable skills for their operations. “Swindon is a treasure trove of different

kinds of industries, so the skill scope is pretty wide. It’s a great place to set up a manufactur- ing facility,” she adds. Ms Grobler admits that it was “devastating”

when the Honda news broke, but is confident that the town can adapt, given its diversity of businesses. Swindon’s broad base of multinational cor-

porations includes German carmaker BMW, which produces components for its Mini plant in Oxford; US pharmaceutical giants Catalent and Thermo Fisher Scientific; Japanese semi- conductor firm Socionext; and Swiss electron- ics specialist TE Connectivity.


Retrainingandskills development Paul Moorby, the chair ofSWLEP andmanaging director of local parking software company Chipside, says that skills have been the focus of local economic development efforts. “If you’re building aneweconomy, youhave

to start with the people of the future,” he tells fDi. “Those are our school children, and people at college and university. That’s where the investment has been focused.” In August 2020, Swindon’s two colleges

merged to formNewCollege Swindon,which is currently developing anewinstitute of technol- ogy (IOT)—one of 12employer-led training facil- ities being built around the UK. Chris Baish, the managing director of New

College Swindon’s IOT, says that it was set up to increase local participation in higher educa- tion and act as an organisation that can fulfil a range ofemployer needs. “IOTs bring together a tripartite set of exper-

tise fromcolleges, universities and employers,” he explains. “Over time, we’ve seen a shift in companies recognising the real benefit of find- ing talent from different sources, whether through apprenticeships or students at college, BTECs or a higher technical level.” The institute specialises in providing higher

education certificates in areas ranging from engineering and manufacturing to science, health and digital skills. Local employers, including Nationwide Bank, BMW, Catalent and Recycling Technologies, have acted as anchor partners with the IOT to develop a future pipeline of talent. “The IOT is great [for employers] because you

cangiveyourowninputintothecurriculum,and we can make sure that the apprentices come out withthe skillsweneed,” explainsMsGrobler.

Divestment impact Despite all these efforts, Mr Tomala worries that what will happen in Swindon could be similar to communities in northern England that were impacted heavily by the closure of coal mines under Margaret Thatcher’s govern- ment in the 1980s. “I think the long-term impact on the local

economy and community is going to be abso- lutely devastating. The dust hasn’t settled on Brexit yet, and the [Covid-19] furlough scheme is ending in September. On top of the plant clo- sure, the knock-on effect on the supply chain could [affect] 12,000–15,000 jobs,” he says. Swindon’s experience withHonda’s exit acts

as a cautionary tale for economic development professionals. With major industries going through heavy restructuring, divestment pro- grammesco-ordinated among all the stakehold- ers are vital to provide local communities witha soft-landingandto project theminto the future. Without soft-landing and adjustment, the

post-industrial decay seen in places like the Midwest in the US or the north of England will be inevitable in communities dealing with divestment. ■ June/July 2021

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