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Ford presses Blair to raise state aid

SENIOR FORD executives yesterday urged the Prime Minister to commit more state aid to a key British plant to prevent 1,400 jobs being lost.

At a 30-minute meeting in Downing Street, the company told Tony Blair that the pounds 30m in government subsidy earmarked for Ford's engine plant at Bridgend in south Wales did not match the sums available elsewhere. It is understood that the German and Spanish governments have indicatedthat more generous packages might be available for plants in Cologne and Valencia.

Ford will announce in the autumn which of the three plants will receive an investment estimated at pounds 250m to make a new engine destined for most Ford models produced in Europe. This will replace the Zetec-SE engine, nearly half a million of which are produced each year at Bridgend, Ford's largest petrol engine works in Europe.

Ken Jackson, the general secretary of the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union, expressed confidence that the Government and the company would arrive at a deal: "Bridgend is a productive plant with an excellent, highly-skilled workforce. I'm sure the investment needed to produce the new engine will be secured," he said. Gerwyn Lloyd, convenor at the Welsh plant, was also hopeful that the Government would meet Ford's demands. "You can only compete if you get good investment," he said.

A Ford spokesman said yesterday's talks, involving Ian McAllister, Ford's UK chairman, and Jim Donaldson, in overall charge of the company's European business, were the kind which took place in every country Ford was involved in. "Companies such as ours seek to negotiate the best deal possible and any sensible Government will want to talk to, and help as much as possible, the industries which form the backbone of its wealth," he said.

Outlook, Page 22