Ford set to impose huge job cuts

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The Independent Online
Ford is expected to announce cuts of one-third in the workforce at its Halewood plant today and the end of volume car production on Merseyside.

Union leaders also expect to be told that the plant has failed in its bid to produce the replace- ment for the Escort model, Britain's second most popular car. The decision would mean that for the first time Ford will have to import more of its cars for the UK market than it exports. The group already im- ports all the Mondeos on sale here.

Halewood is now expected to build a new "People Carrier" vehicle, based on the Escort. Production of the existing Escort will continue until next year at a reduced rate, and the transmission department will remain open.

It is thought that 1,300 jobs will go, leaving around 3,000 jobs at the Merseyside works and taking some of the shine off a fall of 45,100 in the official unemployment figures announced yesterday.

The end of volume car production marks a sea change in the company's policy towards European production.

Management plans will be revealed to senior union representatives today at Halewood by David Gorman, head of manufacturing in Europe. The decision to "down-size" Halewood comes after a series of accusations about the plant's low productivity.

Tony Woodley, National Official of the Transport and General Workers' Union, has threatened to bring Ford production in Europe to a standstill if the company refused to produce the Escort replacement at Halewood.

The Saarlouis factory in Germany and the Spanish plant at Valencia have already been assured that they will be producing the new Escort, due to be launched in 1998.

Mr Woodley said yesterday: "I have to go into the meeting believing that it makes no economic or political sense to close Halewood. I am determined to come out of the meeting with a car plant that will continue to produce high-volume quality vehicles for this country and Europe."

Ian McCartney, Labour's chief employment spokesman, said: "We have already lost 180,000 manufacturing jobs over the past few years in the North-west and this announcement would give the lie to government claims that they have created the investment centre of Europe."

Ford's vehicle production in Britain has declined from 635,000 in 1979 to less than 400,000 last year, while employ-ment at the company's plants in the UK dropped in the same period from 75,000 to 30,000.

Ford union leaders have argued that the company should be increasing investment in the United Kingdom. Ford last night refused to comment.

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Unemployment row, page 20