Ford has come under attack from unions after announcing plans to close its engine plant in Bridgend next year, with the loss of 1,700 jobs.
The company blamed the ending of a contract with Jaguar Land Rover and a fall in sales of petrol engines amid huge changes in the car industry, stressing that the decision was not related to Brexit.
The 40-year-old plant in South Wales will close in September 2020, affecting jobs in companies supplying goods and services to the plant, and delivers another huge blow to the UK motor industry following news that Honda is to shut its factory in Swindon, while other firms are cutting back.
Unions said the news was devastating for the plant and the UK economy, pledging to resist the closure “with all their might”.
Ford’s European president Stuart Rowley told the Press Association that Bridgend workers were “great” and had “done nothing wrong”, adding that they will be offered enhanced redundancies as well as help with finding other jobs.
“Creating a strong and sustainable Ford business in Europe requires us to make some difficult decisions, including the need to scale our global engine manufacturing footprint to best serve our future vehicle portfolio.
“We are committed to the UK, however, 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.”
Ford said factors behind the proposed closure of Bridgend included “significant underutilisation” of the plant, driven by the impending end of engine production for Jaguar Land Rover, the ending of the previous generation Ford GTDi 1.5-litre engine, and reduced global demand for the new generation Ford GTDi and Pfi 1.5-litre engine.
At expected volumes, the plant also faces a cost disadvantage compared with other Ford facilities building the same engine, said Ford, adding that “significant efforts” to identify new opportunities have not been successful.
A company statement said: “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.
“As part of its proposals, Ford also has provided details of a comprehensive plan with an enhanced separation programme for Bridgend employees. This includes helping employees with redeployment opportunities to other Ford sites in the UK and assisting with domestic relocation where possible, or supporting them to find new employers or pursue new opportunities, such as creating their own businesses or training for new careers.”
Mr Rowley added: “As a major employer in the UK for more than a century, we know that closing Bridgend would be difficult for many of our employees. We recognise the effects it would have on their families and the communities where they live and, as a responsible employer, we are proposing a plan that would help to ease the impact.”
Workers were given the news at briefings inside the plant this morning and told to go home and not return until Monday.
GMB regional organiser Jeff Beck said: “We’re hugely shocked by today’s announcement, it’s a real hammer blow for the Welsh economy and the community in Bridgend.
“Regardless of today’s announcement, GMB will continue to work with Ford, our sister unions and the Welsh Government to find a solution to the issue and to mitigate the effects of this devastating news.”
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “Ford’s decision to shut its Bridgend engine plant in 2020 is a grotesque act of economic betrayal.
“These workers and this community have stayed faithful to Ford, as have UK customers – this is still Ford’s largest European market – through thick and thin, but have been treated disgracefully in return by this company.
“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.
“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.
“But Ford can forget about it if it thinks we will make it easy for Ford to walk away from this workforce. We will resist this closure with all our might.”
Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner added: “Ford will be taking an economic sledgehammer to the Welsh economy in an act of gross industrial sabotage if it doesn’t urgently reverse these closure plans.
“Instead of betraying workers who have worked tirelessly to make Bridgend one of the most efficient engine plants in the world, Ford bosses should be rebalancing global engine production from Mexico and India to Bridgend. There is a global yearly market of some 500,000 for the Dragon engine and we demand our fair share of that.
“Unite representatives across all of Ford’s UK sites have previously stated if any plant in the UK is faced with closure or compulsory redundancies, they would all move to a ballot for industrial action.
“Ford bosses should be in no doubt. Unite will not stand back and let Ford turn its back on its loyal UK workforce and allow our members’ livelihoods to be shredded because they are cheaper and easier to fire than their counterparts elsewhere in the world.”
Union sources said Ford bosses spent much of the meeting explaining how much cheaper it was to build engines at its plant in Mexico compared with Bridgend.
The Bridgend site opened in 1980, covers an area of 60 acres, and is one of Wales’s major employers.
The news comes as Honda prepares to shut its Swindon plant in 2021, while fellow Japanese car-maker Nissan reversed a decision to build its new X-Trail vehicle at its Sunderland plant.
Jaguar Land Rover, owned by India’s Tata Motors, is also cutting jobs.
Ford also has another engine plant in Dagenham, Essex, and a plant making transmissions in Halewood, Liverpool.
Ford announced last month that it was cutting 7,000 white collar jobs worldwide, with up to 550 expected in the UK.
A Government spokesman said: “Ford’s announcement today follows earlier announcements that the company has made about its ongoing global restructuring plans, nevertheless the news of their intention and consultation on closing the Bridgend plant will be very worrying for the dedicated workforce.
“Ford has committed to supporting employees throughout the consultation process and beyond, including with redeployment opportunities to other Ford sites in the UK. At the same time, they have also reaffirmed their commitment to their other sites in the UK. The UK Government will be working closely with Ford, local stakeholders and trade union representatives through the consultation.”
Mr Rowley said later that the decision had not been taken lightly, “but it was necessary”.
He told a news conference that Ford would not have made a different decision if Brexit was not happening.
He described the Bridgend workforce as “outstanding”, adding they had done everything they could to deliver efficiencies.
Ford has excess capacity in other plants around the world for the engines produced in Bridgend, while the factory in Mexico has “cost advantages” against the “relatively under-utilised” lines in the South Wales plant.
He added that Ford will be repaying money given by the Welsh Government for the Bridgend site.