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  1. ITV Report

Ford boss says employees 'did everything right' but 1,700 jobs axed with closure of Bridgend plant in 2020

  • Video report by ITV News' Wales Correspondent Rupert Evelyn

Ford has confirmed it is planning to close its engine plant in Bridgend, which will put more than 1,700 people out of work.

The closure in September 2020 will cost the motor giant about $650 million (£513m) in redundancy payments and pension contributions.

ITV News first revealed fears of the closure on Wednesday, and Stuart Rowley, president of Ford of Europe, revealed today that discussions on plant's future had been ongoing for some time but that the formal decision to close it was taken on Wednesday.

"Residual demand out of Bridgend is really not viable," he said.

In a message to workers, Mr Rowley said: “It’s very difficult for them. This is one of the most difficult decisions we make.

"We know it affects them their families and their communities and they have done everything right… I want to be very clear of that… the employees of Bridgend have been great employees.

“We do understand the magnitude of this.”

Workers at Ford Bridgend are facing a bleak future. Credit: PA

Workers leaving the plant at lunchtime told ITV News the meeting to confirm the news was a sombre one but that the news was not unexpected.

One, Andrew Lawrence, said he had been with the company for 25 years, starting as a 19-year-old.

Others workers said they had been told the redundancies would be phased in over the coming months - possibly starting as soon as Monday.

For some workers, it's a case of deja vu, having been transferred from Southampton when Ford shut its factory there.

The plant has been making engines for the Ford fleet for more than 40 years.

Carwyn Jones, Welsh Assembly Member, said the decision to close was a major blow.

Unions are to be consulted but the decision appears irreversible.

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey described it as "a grotesque act of economic betrayal".

He said: "Ford broke promise after promise to the UK. First, it was that it would build 500,000 engines at Bridgend. That fell to a quarter of a million, then fell again and again to now just 80,000.

"The company has deliberately run down its UK operations so that now not a single Ford vehicle - car or van - is made in the UK.

"Ford has treated its UK workers abysmally, and they could do so because the fact remains that it is cheaper, easier and quicker to sack our workers than those in our competitor countries."

He warned the unions were prepared to fight the plan all the way.

Unite union boss Len McCluskey says Ford workers have been treated abysmally. Credit: PA

There may be an opportunity for some workers to move to other Ford operations in Europe, said Mr Rowley, although "it probably won’t be a very large number”.

He denied that Brexit played any part in the decision: “Hard Brexit would not be good for our business but as far as this decision is concerned it has nothing to do with Brexit.

"The simple question is, if Brexit had never happened, would this decision be different, and the answer is no.”

In its official announcement, Ford said the proposed action was a "necessary step" to support Ford’s "global business redesign" and is part of the company’s strategy to create a more efficient and focused business in Europe.

In common with other vehicle-makers, the company is struggling to reshape its business as the world moves increasingly away from petrol and diesel and more toward electric and hybrid-powered vehicles.

Honda workers in Swindon are facing an uncertain future, the Nissan plant in Sunderland has missed out on making new models and Toyota, based in Derbyshire, has warned of the impact of Brexit on future production.

Stuart Rowley admitted it would be a difficult time for employees. Credit: Ford

Ford highlighted the fact that the plant was just not making enough engines anymore - described as "significant under-utilisation of the plant".

Production for Jaguar Land Rover has come to an end, as has the previous generation Ford GTDi 1.5-litre engine, as well as reduced global demand for the new generation Ford GTDi and Pfi 1.5-litre engine.

Ford also said it was costing more to make engines at Bridgend compared with other plants in Europe.

It is proposed that production of the new generation Ford 1.5-litre engine will end at the Bridgend facility in February 2020, with manufacture of the engines supplied to Jaguar Land Rover ceasing in September 2020, when it is proposed that Bridgend will close.

The engines made at Bridgend are coming to the end of their life. Credit: PA

The closure will not only affect direct employees but also many, many others in the supply chain.

Mr Rowley said he did not know just how many more jobs further down the chain would be hit.

"There inevitably will be (losses)," he said.

"A lot of the supply into Bridgend comes from outside of the UK so the impact will be not only in the UK and then of course there are some service suppliers on site who will also be impacted.

“I think we have about 12,000 total employees today [in the UK]," he said.

When asked if he was aware of the negative impact of the closure on south Wales, he added: “We do… we do… and we are very cognisant of that and we take that very seriously.”

Ford’s Bridgend Engine Plant opened in 1977, and today employs about 1,700 employees, including nearly 400 who signed up to a voluntary separation programme earlier this year and will leave between May and December 2019.

The closure of the plant would see more than 1,700 jobs lost. Credit: PA

A Government spokesperson said the news would be "very worrying for the dedicated workforce".

The spokesperson acknowledged Ford had committed to helping employees find work elsewhere in the company.

"The UK Government will be working closely with Ford, local stakeholders and trade union representatives through the consultation.”

Rebecca Long-Bailey, Labour's shadow business secretary, said they would be waiting to see what help - if any - the Government had offered Ford as an incentive to keep the plant going.

Welsh Conservative Shadow Minister for Business, Russell George AM, said: “The Welsh Government must act swiftly now to support the workers of the area, and to reassure the world that Wales continues to be a place of automotive excellence.

“With the Bridgend site closing in late 2020 the next step is to attract new business opportunities to the area for these skilled workers.”

And, Suzy Davies, Assembly Member for South Wales West, added: “This is terrible news for the employees of Bridgend Ford and is a devastating blow for the whole area.

“It is crucial today that appropriate support is made available for affected employees during this difficult time."