(Title Image: Sky News)
This afternoon provided the first opportunity for AMs to quiz the Welsh Government over Ford’s announcement last week that they intend to close the Bridgend engine plant in September 2020.
It was the biggest body blow in a black week for Welsh industry, with hundreds of jobs also set to go at Honeywell in St Asaph and Quinn Radiators in Newport.
Ford has “badly let down workers” & Bridgend
Carwyn Jones AM (Lab, Bridgend) – who tabled the emergency question – told AMs the decision was too sudden, likely to have been taken less than a week before the announcement. He suggested the “ramping up” of a No Deal Brexit following Theresa May’s resignation was a significant development. He wouldn’t give up the fight and asked for assurances on Welsh Government assistance.
Economy & Transport Minister, Ken Skates (Lab, Clwyd South) agreed workers had been let down by the manner of the announcement:
Financial advisors would be sent to avoid “sharks” praying on workers with regard pensions and redundancy payments – as had happened at Tata in Port Talbot. A task force has been established to look at future investment opportunities at the site, as well as means to support Bridgend’s economy and companies in the supply chain.
Bethan Sayed AM (Plaid, South Wales West) backed calls for a strike after workers’ mistreatment by Ford, particularly finding out about the closure on social media – Plaid “will be on the picket lines with them”. She called for a broader conversation on business support as well as an economic summit.
The Minister believed Ford should be compelled to “make a substantial legacy investment” into Bridgend and the workforce.
Engines “£600 cheaper to make in Mexico”
Suzy Davies AM (Con, South Wales) cautioned against “overplaying the Brexit card”; while she was in no doubt it will have played a part, there was a bigger picture:
“….it’s £600 cheaper to produce this engine in Mexico than it is in Bridgend, and there should be questions here….about why the conversations between the Welsh Government and the UK Government….didn’t foresee this happening sooner, because one of the things that emerged….over the last few weeks is that Ford was behind the curve on identifying changing tastes within the European market….”
– Suzy Davies AM
The Minister said the possible impact of Brexit shouldn’t be ignored. The Welsh Government has discussed opportunities at Bridgend for some time and at no point did Ford tell them closure was on the table. He added that discussions were taking place with interested parties – without revealing who – and the plant could be used by multiple businesses due to its size.
The Brexit Party’s reaction to the news has been befitting of a party without any policies and that continued with Caroline Jones AM (BXP, South Wales West) who said the news came in spite of a ‘No Deal Brexit’ being discussed for three years. She asked how much Welsh Government money – estimated to be £11million – could be recuperated?
The Minister had this response:
“There’s a line in ‘Jaws’ where the mayor is told by Chief Brody that he’s going to ignore this problem until it comes up and bites him on the derrière, and that, I’m afraid, is what the Brexiteers of Wales are going to do: keep ignoring the problems that a ‘No Deal’ Brexit will cause for the people of this country and our economy until it comes up and takes their jobs from them. That’s when they’ll start bleating about the problems that Brexit is causing.”
– Economy & Transport Minister, Ken Skates
“The workers did not deserve this….They’ve bent over backwards over the last couple of decades to do every single thing that Ford has asked of them – everything: to increase productivity; to change the way they produce on those lines; to bring new production lines in….Ford owe these workers and they owe these communities.”
– Huw Irranca-Davies AM (Lab, Ogmore)
Shadow Economy Minister, Russell George AM (Con, Montgomery) also focused on the amount of public money given to Ford; the Minister said for the Welsh Government’s £60million investment, £300million a year was generated for the economy.
Andrew RT Davies AM (Con, South Wales Central) asked how this would affect proposals for a business park at Brocastle to the south of the plant? The Minister said Brocastle was a strategic site; work was progressing and there were already a number of expressions of interest.
David Rees AM (Lab, Aberavon) said unions believe the redundancy settlements were a “bribe” to accept deals and the decision. He also wondered what the possible tax implications were regarding the payments and whether workers fully understand this?
The Minister repeated that he expected workers to be offered proper financial advice, though he wasn’t able to comment on how much the Treasury could take, suggesting that letting workers keep more of this money could form part of the UK Government’s response.