Wales politics

Ford Bridgend workers deserve better than closure - Carwyn Jones

Carwyn Jones Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The closure plans are a huge blow to Carwyn Jones's Bridgend constituency

Ford Bridgend engine plant workers deserve "so much better" than the factory's closure, which has now been confirmed by the firm, local AM and ex-first minister Carwyn Jones has said.

He said no reason had been given why Bridgend had been singled out, and workers had done "all asked of them".

But Ford of Europe said later Bridgend was "less efficient than other sites".

Plaid leader Adam Price called closure "one of the most bitter blows" for the Welsh economy for more than 30 years.

Welsh ministers have promised a "rapid response taskforce to support workers".

Union officials were told details of the plans at a meeting with Ford bosses, which include the offer of redeployment of workers to other sites.

In a letter, the 1,700 workers were told they will lose their jobs in phases from 25 September next year.

In a statement, Ford of Europe president Stuart Rowley said: "Changing customer demand and cost disadvantages, plus an absence of additional engine models for Bridgend going forward make the plant economically unsustainable in the years ahead."

He said later the decision was nothing to do with Brexit but he realised the company's plans would be "very significant for the employees, their families and the community in south Wales".

Mr Rowley described the Bridgend plant as "under-utilised and less efficient than other sites" and has confirmed the company will repay £11m in incentives offered by the Welsh Government.

Current First Minister, Mark Drakeford called the news "incredibly sad for the loyal workforce at the factory, for the community of Bridgend and for those in the supply chain".

"The Welsh Government has supported the plant over many years and this decision in no way reflects on the highly skilled individuals who have given the company great service over four decades," he said.

"The Welsh Government will do everything in its power to support those impacted by this announcement and to work with all partners to explore options for the future of the plant."

Mr Drakeford's predecessor, Mr Jones, responded on Twitter after closure plans were confirmed to him, saying "no reason given as to why it should be Bridgend".

"The workers deserve so much better than this after all their efforts and hard work," he said. "They did all that was asked of them."

Image caption Alun Cairns says claims Brexit was behind the closure have "little credibility"

Rebecca Long Bailey, Labour's shadow business secretary at Westminster, said: "The Tories need to wake up to reality: they are dragging our manufacturing base into oblivion".

"Their leadership candidates are vying to inflict the most damaging form of Brexit, and not one of them has a strategy for the challenges facing the automotive sector."

But UK Government Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns said Brexit was not the cause of the Bridgend plant's closure.

He told BBC Wales: "There is little credibility in the statements around Brexit in relation to this project because Ford are taking the engine plant from Bridgend to Mexico.

"Now if they were going to site the plant in Germany or France there might be some credibility in that question."

Mr Cairns added: "The reality is that Europe has a whole problem with automotive because that market is shifting and Europe has not yet got the giga-factories or the power electric machines and drives manufacturers that we need. That's why I've been travelling internationally seeking to attract them here".

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Media captionBridgend MP Madeleine Moon said she was "very emotional" over the closure plan

Earlier, Mr Cairns promised the UK ministers would "work closely with Ford, the trade unions and the Welsh Government, to make sure this highly-valued workforce can move into new skilled employment".

Welsh Economy Minister Ken Skates said Welsh ministers would provide a "rapid response taskforce to support workers".

"There has been a lot of speculation over the future of Ford for some time now and, during that period, the Welsh Government has been in discussions with the UK Government in attempting to capture alternate employment and to land some major projects in Bridgend," he said.

Since 1978 about £140m in taxpayers' money has been invested in the plant, Mr Skates said.

"That has been money well spent because, just in the last decade alone, £3bn has been pumped back into the Bridgend economy by the Ford plant.

"What we have repeatedly said to Ford over recent months and years is that Wales stands ready, it is perfectly situated and positioned to help businesses," he said.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption There have been concerns about Bridgend Ford's future for more than a decade

Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price said closure would be "one of the most bitter blows" for the Welsh economy for more than 30 years.

"Ford is the jewel in the crown of the car industry - which is the hardcore of our manufacturing sector - so the implications of this in terms of the supply chain in terms of job losses is very, very grave indeed."

Bridgend council leader Huw David described the news as "the single biggest blow to our economy since the closure of the pits".

He said the authority would offer workers at the plant its full support and that action was already being taken.

"Bridgend Ford has been our biggest single private sector employer at the heart of the community for almost 40 years," he said.

"We are devastated for everyone affected by this decision, and we urge Ford to reconsider and to work with both Welsh Government and the UK Government to keep this plant open."

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