Ford workers in Southampton and Dagenham were left “shocked and angry” today after the US carmaker axed 1,400 jobs in the UK, dealing a major blow to the economy just hours after it officially emerged from recession.
With one in ten of Ford's British staff facing redundancy, business secretary Vince Cable pledged to intervene to help them find new jobs after what he called “very disappointing” news.
“It's a disappointment and a shock,” said Simon Spicer, a 40-year old worker at the Southampton plant, which made Spitfire aircraft in the Second World War and which is due to close with the loss of 530 jobs.
“My dad worked here in 1972 for 25 years. I've worked here for 25 years, I'm not sure what I'll do,” he added.
“It is the worst news we've heard since we've worked here,” added another, visably shell-shocked, worker standing outside the Southampton plant.
“It's not just us, it's about future generations. All the big companies, they've all gone now really. The population's getting bigger, where are all the jobs in Southampton?” he added.
In addition to Southampton, there will be about 750 job cuts in Dagenham, as Ford closes the stamping and tooling facility at the plant, although the rest of that operation will stay open.
Ford's other two UK sites, in Halewood on Merseyside and Bridgend in South Wales, are unaffected by the cuts, which number about 1,400 when support staff are included. The company said it hoped to reduce the net number of job losses to 1,100 by relocating 300 staff.
Southampton and Dagenham both loom large in the British consciousness, albeit for quite different reasons. Dagenham is the scene of the Ford seat covering sewing machinists strike of 1968, immortalised in the film Made in Dagenham, while Southampton makes the Ford Transit beloved of 'white van man'.
The Swaythling site, on the outskirts of Southampton, has built more than 6m Ford Transit vans in the past 45 years, work which will now move to Turkey.
“This is devastating news for the workforce in Southampton and Dagenham. There is a feeling of shock and anger,” said Justin Bowden, the Unite union's national officer.
Caroline Nokes, the conservative MP for Romsey and Southampton, added that the closure in her constituency was a “bitter blow”.
The closure of the UK plants is part of a broader overhaul of Ford's European operation, which is set to lose more than $1.5bn (£930m) this year as the Eurozone crisis pushes demand for cars across the continent to a near 20-year low. Demand in Europe is now about a fifth lower than it was before the financial crisis hit in 2007 and the reduced level is expected to persist for at least the next few years.
On Wednesday, Ford announced it would shut its “underutilised” Genk plant in Belgium by 2014, with the loss of 4,300 jobs, again as part of its European reorganisation.
Shop stewards representing Ford's UK staff learned of the cuts when they were summoned to a meeting with Ford's European head, Stephen Odell, in a meeting at the company's technical centre in Basildon at 10am this morning.
Alan Mulally said he recognised “the impact our actions will have on many employees and their families” but added that the company was dealing with a “crisis” in Europe.
The blow to Ford's UK staff was all the heavier today, coming hard on the heels of new economic data which showed that the economy climbed by 1.0 per cent in the three months to the end of September. This is the strongest growth since the same period in 2007 and takes Britain out of its double-dip recession.