Government acts to save Ford plant

THE GOVERNMENT has entered confidential talks with Ford amid serious concerns that the car giant might close its Bridgend plant in Wales.

Alun Michael, Secretary of State for Wales, is preparing to fly to the company's Detroit headquarters in an attempt to persuade main board directors to invest in the plant which produces engines for a wide range of cars. The plant employs 1,500 workers, but more than 2,000 jobs are directly linked to the plant, located in an unemployment black spot in mid-Glamorgan.

Concern has so far centred on Ford's Dagenham plant because of disappointing sales of the Fiesta. The Essex complex has been on a four-day week since October and short time working is expected to continue until Easter when there will be a three-week shutdown instead of the usual three days. Now, however, concern will switch to the future of the Welsh plant.

The Bridgend plant currently produces Zetec engines for models varying from the Fiesta to the Granada, but the company intends to introduce the I4-I5 engine to replace it.

"If Bridgend gets the new engine it will be secure, but if it doesn't, it will close. It's as simple as that," said one senior union source.

Ford has invested heavily in its complexes at Valencia in Spain and Cologne in Germany, but there are no signs yet of a long-term financial commitment towards Bridgend.

It is feared that management might choose to build the new engine in Cologne at Bridgend's expense. The company has already decided to invest pounds 150m in the German plant where unions have recently signed a radical agreement to introduce flexible working practices to secure the plant's viability.

In a recent visit to Wales Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, toured the Bridgend plant as a gesture of support for its future and Mr Michael's trip to Detroit will underline the Government's concern.

It is thought that the Welsh Secretary will remind Ford directors of the importance of the plant to the area and will set out the financial incentives available to Ford if they chose the mid-Glamorgan works.

Doug Collins, national officer at the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union, emphasised that the Welsh plant needed the new engine in order to secure its long-term future.