Former Birmingham City Council leader Lord Whitby has hailed the new £300 million Covpress China factory as a vital blueprint for industrial growth in the UK.
Lord Whitby, who is international affairs adviser to Covpress, said the joint venture in Shandong province was a template for future co-operation on industrial projects between the UK and China.
He told the Birmingham Post on the eve of the opening of a factory which aims to become the “best press shop in the world” that the Coventry car parts maker would immediately tap into a market of 1.3 billion people.
And he said Covpress China would help create hundreds of new jobs in the West Midlands – and prove a high-profile successor to the Chinese-owned MG car factory at Longbridge as an example of long-term investment in the UK by the Far East superpower.
Lord Whitby told the Post in Dongying, China: “My visit to Shandong Yongtai has again reminded me of the scale and pace of change in China and their determination to become a global economic power.
“This points the way for firms in Britain to enter into joint ventures between their company and a country which is determined to be a global player.
“We have to appreciate how the Chinese Government supports long-term investment.
“They are here for the long haul, they are not going to exit after five years.
“Covpress China believe they are going to become a global automotive supplier. This is great news for the people of Coventry and for the Greater Birmingham region. It is also great news for manufacturing in the UK and I think there are lessons to be learnt for our Government here.”
Lord Whitby said the doubters had been proved wrong over the Chinese takeover of Longbridge in 2005. “People accused the Chinese of lifting and shifting but that has not proved to be the case.
“In Covpress’s case, they have already driven up sales exponentially with a view to becoming a global supplier.
“Looking at the future in Coventry, they could be envisaging creating hundreds of new jobs.
“Governments of all political hues can learn from this mix.
“A joint venture with China can open up a market of 1.3 billion immediately. This is a win-win situation for Covpress.
“We have had a lot of success with Nanjing/SAIC and I think that that can be replicated with Covpress.
“The Birmingham City region is the only region with a balance of payments surplus with China.”
The half a million square feet factory at Dongying marks a huge investment by the Chinese in the UK car industry and is set to create 5000 jobs within 18 months.
It follows a link-up between Chinese industrial powerhouse Shandong Yongtai and Telford-based tyre firm Treadsetters which led to the £30 million buyout of the Coventry body panels supplier in mid-2013.