Build electric buses in Yorkshire and not China – Andy Palmer

THE election of Tracy Brabin as West Yorkshire’s first mayor should catalyse Yorkshire’s ambitions for green economic growth, given her support for the UK’s journey to net zero.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan (second left) and the mayor of West Yorkshire Tracy Brabin (second right) during a visit Switch Mobility, an electric bus factory in Sherburn in Elmet.
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan (second left) and the mayor of West Yorkshire Tracy Brabin (second right) during a visit Switch Mobility, an electric bus factory in Sherburn in Elmet.

Ms Brabin has made expanding clean and green transport a central priority for her term of office, in which she will also have a powerful mandate to champion local industry, and ensure the Government delivers on its levelling-up agenda.

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The best way to do this is to play to our region’s strengths. We have a history of manufacturing talent, dating back to the Industrial Revolution. Our region has huge potential, but is facing barriers to exploiting its strengths.

Tracy Brabin is the first mayor of West Yorkshire following her election last month.

Manufacturing has been in steady decline for decades, Covid-19 has put people out of work and air pollution levels are exceeding healthy limits.

But industry in Yorkshire is here to stay. In the aftermath of Brexit and the pandemic, and as we push towards net zero, it is more important than ever to showcase Yorkshire’s technical expertise and create high-skilled, green jobs that boost our region’s economic recovery.

The scale of the recovery we need is dauntingly large. Over the past few decades, manufacturing jobs as a share of total UK jobs have halved.

However, we have the potential to meet this challenge. Last month, UK100 calculated that “up to 1.2 million jobs could be created across manufacturing and construction if the Government were to commit to a green recovery”.

Should more zero emission buses be manufacturered in Britain rather than China?

Following the Conservative’s success in last month’s local elections and a steady return to domestic policy post-pandemic, it is crucial that the Government acts 
on its commitment to level up across the UK by investing in vital manufacturing jobs in the North – and Ms Brabin will play a crucial role in holding its feet to the fire.

Some of our region’s manufacturing jobs may be gone for good, but when we look at exciting, emerging markets like green manufacturing, there are obvious paths to growth.

Take the bus manufacturing industry as an example. The UK has a long history in bus innovation and manufacturing and, for many years, was a global industry hub. As vice chairman of Switch, the electric bus manufacturer that can trace its automotive roots to 1907, I can see the potential that this industry has to grow and deliver not only green and accessible transport for people in Yorkshire, but also local, green jobs.

Just last year, Leeds saw its first ever all-electric buses on the road, a crucial stepping stone in its path to net zero. However, these buses weren’t made in Yorkshire or even in the UK. They were made in China.

This is a critical example of a wider pattern, where UK manufacturers have been overlooked in favour of Chinese competitors. This is costing us, not just in taxpayer money going abroad, but in local firms missing out on investment that could safeguard employment in this part of the world.

This was not inevitable, the Chinese government has moved fast and hard to support its domestic EV industry – declaring it as one of their national, strategic, emerging industries back in 2010.

China recognised the value of using domestic manufacturers for domestic products and services. They also subsidised their manufacturers – in Shenzen, before 2016, each 12-metre electric bus reportedly received a $150,000 government subsidy. This has left the UK and the rest of the world struggling to keep up.

In March, the UK Government released its £3bn National Bus Strategy and accompanying ZEBRA scheme, which allocated £120m to the rollout of 500 zero emission buses this year.

The scheme recognises the wide-reaching benefits of zero emissions buses for the climate and public health – and when they are manufactured by British companies, they bring investment and high quality jobs to local regions, delivering great community benefits.

Crucially, our new mayor can hold the Government to account and make sure taxpayer’s money isn’t being shipped out, to ship in buses from abroad.

This is the sort of industry that can protect great jobs for local people, boost the economy and make the UK a cleaner, safer place. Yorkshire has the potential 
to experience a green manufacturing boom, and with Ms Brabin in office, we now have a local champion to support this effort.

Andy Palmer is vice chairman of Switch Mobility and a former CEO of Aston Martin.

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