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The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Off the buses

by New Worker correspondent

PUBLIC transport is supposed to be a good thing and should be encouraged to discourage private car ownership. That message has not got through to Alexander Dennis (ADL) however, Britain’s largest bus and coach builder, which has announced that 650 jobs will be lost at its three main sites. It will close production at Guildford in Surrey, at a cost of 200 jobs (out of 240), as well as making 160 redundant at Falkirk (despite jobs being moved there), 90 will go at Scarborough and a further 200 at other smaller sites across the country.

Formal negotiations with unions have started. ADL blame “the significant fall in demand for new buses and coaches in the United Kingdom as a result of the coronavirus pandemic” and piously describes the redundancies as a “restructuring programme” of vertical integration that will see chassis production transferred to Falkirk, where the bodies of its busses are presently built. Non-manufacturing functions including engineering, test & development, and aftermarket services will continue at Guildford.

The company moans that it has not been getting enough handouts from the UK and Scottish Governments, which should “urgently introduce meaningful support to facilitate demand for new buses and coaches, not only to prevent further damage to UK bus and coach manufacturing that could threaten additional production sites, but to help build back better with a green recovery that delivers cleaner air for our towns and cities”.

Unite the Union, however, accused ADL of “using COVID-19 as an excuse to accelerate restructuring plans developed before the pandemic”. In particular, Unite deplored ADL’s parent company, the NFI Group, for outsourcing a huge order of buses for Berlin to a Turkish company.

NFI investors had been assured at a private meeting in early August by the group’s chief financial officer, Pipasu Sinui, that NFI’s strategy is about generating “significant returns for shareholders” and was developed before the pandemic. Another boss has said that most orders have been shifted from this year to next and not cancelled, which makes a mockery of its claims to be forced into redundancies.

Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner denounced ADL, saying: “Pre-COVID plans, identified by Unite following disclosure of information requests, are now being accelerated to use the pandemic as an excuse to bring forward the ending of production at Guildford and attack jobs across the group while outsourcing work abroad in order to line shareholder pockets. The fact that all this is being done after the company took full advantage of UK taxpayer’s money through the job retention scheme, and after our help has been sought to secure government funding for advanced manufacture of green buses, is a gross betrayal of a loyal, world class workforce.”

Its national officer for the automotive sector, Steve Bush, added: “ADL and NFI’s actions are naked corporate vandalism driven by greed and will not go unchallenged by Unite. The union continues to call for the government to bring forward its order of 4,000 new low emission buses, but any public money including new orders, must now be conditional on the company retaining jobs and keeping work in the UK.” The Scottish secretary, Pat Rafferty, said the union will not allow the “savage cuts” to go unopposed.

Guildford Labour Party (GLP) said: “It is absolutely tragic to hear that Alexander Dennis, a company with such a long history in Guildford, is making most of its employees redundant.

“If, as the company claims, Dennis is being squeezed out of business because of this serious but temporary coronavirus crisis, then clearly the government needs to do more. Britain needs to build its manufacturing base, not abandon it.”

The local party’s chair, Brian Creese, added: “Guildford needs these jobs. Making 200 local people redundant adds to the benefits bill while losing the skills built up over the years.

“In June, there were almost 37,000 people in the town on universal credit. Surely it is better to spend money on helping to keep employees in work rather than subsidising unemployment?”