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British company may have kept plant open

He who pays the piper calls the tune and, in the case of Ford at least, Detroit has decided that the bands will play in Spain and Germany but not on Merseyside. Would Ford's decision to concentrate production of the new Escort in Saarlouis and Valencia instead of Halewood have been any different had the company been British and not American-owned?

Would, for that matter, the decision have been different had Britain not developed such a Europhobic reputation?

It is impossible to answer either question conclusively. British Leyland's ownership did not prevent it from closing down another Merseyside car factory two decades ago.

What can be said with certainty, however, is that strong, British-owned companies are a better guarantee of British prosperity and British jobs than handing large tracts of the commercial landscape over to foreign multinationals. Britain's dwindling band of world-class companies are not angels, nor are they driven by patriotic fervour. British Aerospace, GKN and ICI, to name but three, have all been guilty of exporting jobs at one time or another.

But the fact that they are British-owned and British-run always means that investment decisions will be taken here, that intellectual copyright will remain within these shores and that their facilities do not become little more than screwdriver assembly plants.

The economic arguments for ending Escort production in Britain, as opposed to Spain or Germany, are hardly compelling. Indeed, when competing wage rates, market conditions, government support and freight costs are taken into account it becomes a finely balanced choice. But a choice, significantly, that was taken a long way from Merseyside.