Greg Clark – 2017 Speech at Opening of London Taxi Factory

Below is the text of the speech made by Greg Clark, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, in Coventry on 22 March 2017.

Introduction

Thank you, it’s a great honour to be here for the opening of such an impressive new factory.

50,000 square feet.

An annual production capacity of 20,000 vehicles.

Up to a thousand new jobs.

A £325 million investment in an icon of British culture.

Over the last 60 years, more than 130,000 London Black Cabs have been produced here in the West Midlands.

However, the history of motorised taxi manufacturing in the UK is twice as long as that.

The first purpose-built motorised taxi was manufactured in 1897 – and remarkably it was an electric vehicle.

Because of their bright livery and the sound of their engines, these were known as Hummingbirds – and, for a few years, were a familiar sight on the streets of London.

Sadly, the battery technology of the time could not compete against the petrol engine – and, in the 20th century, electric vehicles were pushed off the road.

However, in this century, we can expect the opposite to happen.

Indeed, we stand on the brink of a road transport revolution: a new age of ultra low emission vehicles that might just well save the world.

This factory is where a better future will be made, while at the same time continuing a great British tradition.

London black cabs not only keep our capital moving, but they help represent our country far and wide.

In 2013, that proud legacy was secured when the London Taxi Company was acquired by Geely.

And, now with vital investment from its parent company, LTC goes on to even greater things.

I’m delighted that the founder and chairman of Geely is with us today.

Li Shufu is one of China’s great business leaders – and, therefore, one of the world’s great business leaders.

Mr Li, on behalf of the Prime Minister and the whole Government, I would like to express our gratitude for your commitment to this company and also to our country.

I greatly look forward to our continued cooperation – and to strengthening the partnership between our nations.

Electric vehicles

Ladies and gentlemen, all relationships, all partnerships, are deepened through shared interests.

Trade is one such interest; another is the fight against climate change.

It is a global endeavour in which China is now playing a leading role.

Not least, in the contribution made by Chinese manufacturers.

By driving down the price of key technologies we are making possible a low carbon future in which energy is not only used efficiently but produced cleanly and cheaply.

Of course, to achieve our climate objectives we also need low carbon transportation – and for that we need low emission vehicles.

After a century in which the internal combustion engine has ruled the roads, we need to persuade consumers that a shift to electric engines and other forms of low emission vehicles is both desirable and achievable.

Electric vehicles must be seen as a reliable, mainstream option.

I can think of no better demonstration than the electrification of the taxi – and not just any taxi, but the London black cab.

Here we have the very image of tradition, comfort and reliability – and one that millions of Londoners, commuters and tourists can experience for themselves.

If people see black cabs go green then they will know that all cars can do the same.

It’s not just the evidence of their eyes that will count, but also the evidence of their lungs.

The global problem of climate change runs alongside the local problem of air pollution.

LTC has already shown it is possible to cut harmful emissions with better diesel engines.

And the vehicles produced in this factory will show that we can cut emissions altogether.

For busy cities, not just in this country but all around the world, that is truly welcome news.

So for all of these reasons the UK Government has identified the continuation of innovation in electric and other low emission vehicles as a key priority for our Industrial Strategy.

And that is why today we’re announcing today £50 million to encourage taxi drivers to switch to cleaner greener vehicles; cabbies here amongst us I’m sure will be pleased to know that there will be up to £7,500 off the price of a new cab and £14m worth of investment in dedicated charge point for electric taxis not just in London but in ten councils.

Ultimately, progress depends on the expertise and commitment of advanced automotive companies like LTC and Geely – but Government can play, and will, play an important supporting role.

Industrial strategy

Unlike the failed policies of the past, a modern industrial strategy does not mean government telling business what to do.

Rather it’s about public investments helping them support their own long-term investment decisions that companies are making.

For instance, Government can nourish the roots of innovation through our funding of science.

This country has many of the world’s top universities and research institutions – and we will maintain and extend this advantage.

That is why, last November, we announced the biggest increase in public research and development funding since 1979.

This will include funding for research that is of direct relevance to the automotive sector – for instance, research into better batteries.

Skills provision is another area in which the government can play a vital role.

If we want British industry to manufacture the next generation of products, then we must nurture the next generation of engineers, mechanics and designers.

We are determined to build on our strengths and to build a system of technical education that can beat any in the world.

And we will continue to invest not just in the quantity but the quality of apprenticeships – of which the training schemes offered by LTC are an excellent example.

We are providing the funds required to achieve these goals – with the Spring Budget described by the Confederation of British Industry as “a breakthrough budget for skills.”

Infrastructure is focus of further action.

We’ve given the go-ahead to a string of major upgrades.

We can’t expect industry to make long-term investment decisions if the government refuses to do the same, which is why we are determined to make these big decisions as part of our Industrial Strategy.

The automotive sector

Just as important as the scale and seriousness of public investment is the care by which it is coordinated.

This requires that decisions are made at the right level and through the right institutions.

For example, to support our diverse local economies we need to empower local decision makers.

That’s why, as part of devolving power from Whitehall, we’ve created local institutions capable of using it – such as the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership which continues to be such a big champion of the development of advanced manufacturing in this area.

This £325 million investment was supported by a £16 million investment through the Regional Growth Fund.

In other cases, the most appropriate context for decision making is not geographical, but sectoral.

By creating its own shared institutions, each sector can play an active role in the development of industrial policy – working not just for the benefit of a few incumbents that exist already but for the whole sector including the supply chain.

In this respect the UK automotive sector serves as a beacon of success.

Sector-wide institutions like the Automotive Council and the Advanced Propulsion Centre have played a pivotal role in the coordination of public investment as well as private investment – whether in research, skills or the other foundations of productivity.

Today, our UK automotive sector is the most productive in Europe – a testament to what can be achieved.

A testament also to the benefits of inward investment.

Back in the 1970s, car making in the UK had become emblematic of our post-war decline – but, through partnership with overseas manufacturers, as well as domestic ones, the industry was transformed.

From the North East to the West Midlands advanced automotive engineering and cutting edge vehicle design is a key strength of the modern British economy.

And today, we open the latest compelling chapter in this story of success.

A story in which this Government is proud to play a supporting, but steadfast, role.

It is an honour and a privilege to be with you today at this most auspicious event.