Thursday, 2 March 2017
Uncertain times ahead for Bridgend Plant
It looks as though Ford Motor Company is set to reduce its workforce at the Bridgend Engine Plant in south Wales, UK, by 2021 as Dragon begins to show its teeth and JLR pulls out.
The Bridgend Engine Plant currently employs 1,760 members of staff, but the fears for the future of the site and its staff has been steadily increasing.
There have been reported the car company has drawn up a plan to cut the workforce to around 600 by 2021
The Ford production plant has been based in Bridgend for over 35 years; production began at Ford Bridgend in 1980. This came three years after the car manufacturer signed an investment deal with the Welsh Development Agency.
Bridgend's first engine was the CVH, which powered a number of models including Fiesta, MK2 Escort and the Ford Orion between 1980 and 2004.
Specialist low-volume customers included the Morgan Motor Company which took from engines built at the plant.
Volvo’s SI6 engine was built in Bridgend from 2006 and used in the Swedish company’s cars until 2014. Land Rover also used it in Freelander.
Launched amidst doom and gloom
In 2008 the plant received a £70 million investment, with £13.4 million in support from the Welsh assembly, and Rhodri Morgan, Wales’s then first minister, said: "The factory was opened 28 years ago amid the doom and gloom of the early 1980s. This investment probably means Ford will be making engines here for another 28 years."
In 2010, Ford announced it would produce the new lightweight, compact and ultra-efficient 1.6-litre 'EcoBoost' engines at Bridgend and to be used in Ford's modern car range.
In 2013 a £24 million investment - with £12 million in non-repayable finance from the Welsh Government - ensured continued [production of the fuel-efficient 1.5-litre EcoBoost gasoline engine at the plant. Products from Bridgend now power Ford Fiesta, B-MAX, Focus, C-MAX, Kuga and Mondeo models.
In 2015 Volvo called a halt on production at the plant and next year Tata Motors is calling ‘time’ on engines made at Bridgend for its JaguarLandRover business.
The production of the Sigma engine is to stop in 2019-20, and this led the Unite trades union last September to express ‘grave concerns for the future of the plant’.
This was at the time Ford announced it was going to halve the plant’s proposed production of the new Dragon engine, due to begin in 2018, and “significantly reduce” planned investment in the site.
Ford has confirmed that instead of an investment of £181 mullion to produce the family of all-new, technologically advanced, fuel efficient petrol engines, the initial investment will now be £100 million with a workforce requirement of 550 and not 750 people.
Production set to end next year
With production of the two engines set to end by 2020 and investment in the Dragon project reduced, the plant has been plunged into uncertainty.
In September last year Unite Wales Secretary Andy Richards said the halving of the Dragon production and other pre-planned reductions "places the plant in a very dangerous situation".
And Unite’s Bryan Godsell said workers have been gripped by uncertainty: "The real fear is that four years down the line what happens then because the programme with Jaguar Land Rover and the Ford Sigma engine stops around 2019-20."
Last month a Ford spokeswoman said: "Ford announced in September that it was taking the option to invest an initial £100 million of an approved investment to build a family of all-new, technologically advanced petrol engines at Bridgend from late 2018.
"In addition, Ford once again reiterated that the anticipated production volume of engines from Bridgend remains healthy in the upcoming years, with associated labour requirements expected to be similar to today’s level.
"Bridgend must fulfil its commitment in terms of delivery, quality and cost of the products it manufactures and – just as in the case for every Ford plant around the world – winning new product contracts depends on the plant’s efficiency and global competitiveness."
Dragon production requires a workforce commitment of around 550 people, so staff have become increasingly anxious over what will become of the other 1,300 jobs at the site.
Union issues a deadline
Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite, gave a 1 March deadline to Ford for reassurances for the future of the plant, following meetings with car company's Europe chief executive officer Jim Farley.
At the start of February McCluskey said: "I am delighted to say that this was a very positive, wide-ranging meeting, in which Mr Farley shared with us the company’s future plans but also their concerns about the value of sterling and the type of Brexit currently being considered, which would see this industry lose its access to the European single market.
“Our automotive industry is world class, and Ford is a big part of this. It was good to hear Ford Europe’s chief executive personally express his thanks for the dedication and loyalty of the UK workforce and that the company wants to work with us on jobs and investment planning for the future.
“On the Bridgend plant, talks are ongoing and I will be visiting the plant in the coming weeks to speak to the shop stewards about the direction we need to travel to secure jobs.
“Given the turbulence of current times, however, we fully share Mr Farley’s view that the sector must retain access to the single market on a tariff-free basis."
It was at this time the shop stewards bulletin sent out to staff in Bridgend stated Ford bosses had outlined a planned $1.5 billion investment for other UK plants over the next five years, but had not mentioned Bridgend.