Economy Minister upbeat about prospects for Bridgend Ford engine plant

(Title Image: Wales Online)

Earlier this afternoon, an emergency question on the future of the Ford engine plant in Bridgend was tabled by Carwyn Jones AM (Lab, Bridgend) following the announcement last week that around 1,000 jobs could be lost there.

Carwyn said the announcement has caused a great deal of uncertainty in Bridgend. He asked whether the Welsh Government would commit to working closely with unions and management to secure a future for the plant.

Economy & Transport Minister, Ken Skates (Lab, Clwyd South) said he was in talks with Ford Europe. He was bullish about the Bridgend plant’s future despite the news:

“….the automotive sector is undergoing dramatic and rapid change, and in the last week we’ve seen the impact of that on Ford’s decisions in terms of a European-wide review, with various decisions to be made over whether to reduce lines in Germany, whether to close a plant in Bordeaux, whether to cease the joint venture agreement in Russia. What makes the Bridgend plant strong in regards to future considerations is that the productivity levels have been improving. There are now very, very good industrial relations at the site and, of course, a new Dragon engine has begun being manufactured.”
– Economy & Transport Minister, Ken Skates

Suzy Davies AM (Con, South Wales West) was a bit more guarded. She asked for further details on Welsh Government support for the plant and also raised this point, which could have a big impact on the future of the plant:

“….one of the considerations I’m sure you’ve thought of is….that Ford globally is now working in partnership with Volkswagen, and Volkswagen itself already has the infrastructure available to produce electric cars which, for me, places a question mark over the possibility of Bridgend being used for that.”
– Suzy Davies AM

The Minister said that conditions attached to Welsh Government support mean work needs to be provided for a minimum of five years and that’s the case with the Dragon engine which, fortunately, can be modified to run as a hybrid. The current production target of 125,000 engines could be increased to 250,000 if production in Russia is taken out of the equation.

There’s also a potential investment by Ineos in a new off-road vehicle to be developed in Bridgend, said to be potentially worth “hundreds of millions of pounds”.

The Minister confirmed any workers affected by redundancies in Bridgend will be offered similar Welsh Government support to those affected at Tata – retraining and immediate re-employment in opportunities within the sector where they exist.

Rhun ap Iorwerth AM (Plaid, Ynys Môn) wanted assurances about the use of public funding. He called for a summit on the major threats facing the Welsh economy in light of the Ford news, the possibility of Wylfa Newydd being halted or scrapped and any possible fall-out from Brexit.

Huw Irranca-Davies AM (Lab, Ogmore) said that while the Welsh Government’s position was clear, what role would the UK Government have as the Bridgend plant has much wider regional and UK importance due to the supply chain?

The Minister told the chamber a working group has been set up to look at future opportunities at the Ford plant and urgent discussions were also taking place with regard Wylfa Newydd.

Brexit has already had an impact on Ford due to a weak pound, which has cost the company £600million. The Minister called on the UK Government to press for Ineos (which is owned by a Brexit-backing billionaire) to invest in the UK and not in continental Europe, as well as working towards collaboration between car manufacturers to kick start mass production of vehicle batteries.

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