Safeguarding jobs at British car manufacturing plants should be one of the government’s priorities in the Brexit negotiations, an industry body has said.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), which represents car makers and dealers, says the coming year will see manufacturers make important decisions about where new models will be built, and it is ‘essential’ that both the government and industry secures investment and jobs in the UK.

According to the society, such decisions are dependent on the UK’s competitiveness within the market. The group is demanding free access to the EU and key global markets, as well as investment in new technology that improves manufacturing efficiency.

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The SMMT also points out that the automotive industry is a huge employer in the UK, with car factories becoming customers for businesses in the logistics, retail, insurance and telecoms industries.

SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said: ‘Last week’s deal on the transition period was essential, providing a short-term boost and a degree of certainty for investors. The next major hurdle will be securing a new, comprehensive trade agreement with the EU and our partners across the world. In the meantime, government must help make the UK as competitive as possible.

‘The government’s Industrial Strategy and Automotive Sector Deal are positive steps but we need concrete action if we are to stay ahead in what is an intensely competitive global environment. New figures out today show the positive impact our industry has on other sectors so it is vital that automotive competitiveness is front of mind for policy makers.’

The news comes as the SMMT announced a 4.4 percent reduction in UK car manufacturing during February – an issue the society blamed on falling domestic demand caused by Brexit uncertainty.