CAR giant Ford was attacked by unions today after announcing plans to close its Transit van factory and another UK site with the loss of around 1,400 jobs.
The grim news was given to union chiefs and workers at meetings with the company and was described as “devastating” by officials.
The Transit van plant in Southampton will close next summer, with the loss of more than 500 jobs, while a stamping and tooling site in Dagenham, Essex, will shut at the same time.
Ford said it hoped to achieve the reductions through voluntary redundancies, enhanced employee separation and redeployment to other sites.
It is understood that workers at the Dagenham site staged a walkout after being told the news, although they were told to go home by the company.
Workers in Southampton were also sent home for the day.
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey accused Ford of betraying its workforce and said the announcement had been handled “disgracefully”.
He said: “Only a few months ago Ford was promising staff a new Transit model for Southampton in 2014. The planned closures will really hurt the local economies and the supply chain will be badly hit - up to 10,000 jobs could be at risk.
“The Transit has been the best-selling van in the UK for over a quarter of a century. It has a future in the UK if this Government is prepared to fight for real jobs and persuade Ford to keep manufacturing vehicles in the UK.”
Justin Bowden, national officer of the GMB union, said: “This is devastating news for the workers in Southampton and Dagenham and is very bad news for UK manufacturing.
“Ford’s track record in Britain is one of broken promises and factory closures. There will be a feeling of shock and anger, and Ford’s commitment on investment will cut little ice.”
Ford employs around 11,400 workers in the UK at plants including Dagenham, Halewood on Merseyside and Bridgend in South Wales.
Ford said its UK operations will remain a centre of excellence for powertrain development and production, including plans to add a new generation two-litre diesel engine in Dagenham to power Ford vehicles from 2016.
The engine will be developed at the firm’s technical centre in Dunton, Essex, while additional investment is also expected at the Bridgend plant.
Stephen Odell, chairman and chief executive of Ford of Europe, said: “We have to act quickly and decisively to address the collapse in consumer demand in Europe today and position Ford for profitable growth tomorrow.
“We are reaffirming our commitment to the UK with a major investment in powertrain and engineering and one which will reinforce the UK’s central role in Ford’s global powertrain strategy.”
Joe Greenwell, chairman of Ford of Britain, said: “While this is an important new investment in UK research and development engineering and manufacturing, we fully recognise the impact these actions will have on the workforce at Southampton and Dagenham stamping and tooling operations.
“Investing in what we do best here in the UK and building on our strengths is the only way to deal decisively with the new economic reality in Europe and help build a profitable business.”
Alan Mulally, President and Chief Executive of Ford, said; “We recognise the impact our actions will have on many employees and their families in Europe and we will work together with all stakeholders during this necessary transformation of our business.”
Ford yesterday unveiled plans to close its factory in Genk, Belgium, with the loss of 4,300 jobs.
Paul Everitt, Chief Executive of The Society of Motor manufacturers and Traders said: “This is difficult and disappointing news for all the people and families affected by today’s announcement, but it is part of wider restructuring to ensure a stronger and more competitive European automotive industry.
“The immediate priority is to help those impacted secure alternative employment. The decline in European vehicle markets and the uncertain future growth prospects has resulted in a number of vehicle manufacturers restructuring their operations. These are difficult times for the European automotive industry as manufacturers adapt to new market conditions and changing patterns of global demand.
“Ford has renewed its commitment to the company’s core R&D, design and engine manufacturing operations in the UK and these will continue to provide long-term and high-value employment to many thousands of people.
“The UK automotive industry has seen £6 billion of new investment from a wide-range of global vehicle manufacturers during the last two years and there is demand for skilled workers in the automotive industry and other high-value manufacturing sectors.”
Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander told BBC Radio 4’s World at One: “That is very serious news.
“Vince Cable (Business Secretary) is in close contact with the company and will continue to do that.
“This very difficult news shouldn’t hide the fact, though, that our automotive sector is doing well.
“Britain is now a net exporter of cars for the first time in many decades. We are seeing other companies making big investments in this country.”
Business Secretary Vince Cable said: “Today’s news will be very disappointing for the workers at Southampton and Dagenham who have been very aware of the challenges facing the auto sector throughout Europe.
“Our priority will be to help the workforce and we will be working with Ford to get them into new jobs as quickly as possible.
“Ford has today underlined its continued long-term commitment to its core activities in the UK and its £1.5 billion programme of investment in advanced manufacturing, engineering and research and development until 2015.
“And the company has today announced that production of the new low-carbon diesel engine will start in 2015/16 which is being designed and engineered at Dunton and built at Dagenham.
“This is good news and underlines Ford’s commitment for the long term. Ford has applied for money from round three of the Government’s Regional Growth Fund to enable this project to go ahead and we were pleased last Friday to announce support for this going forward.”
Leader of Southampton City Council Richard Williams said: “This is the news we feared and it’s a very bad day for the city. It certainly doesn’t feel as if we are coming out of recession here in Southampton.
“Now that we know the plant is to close next summer, we have to act quickly to support the 500 workers affected and alleviate the knock-on effect of such a blow to local industry.
“The city council will be forming a taskforce along with trade unions, Jobcentre Plus and local MPs to help find new employment for the affected staff.
“We will be calling on local MPs to raise the closure in Parliament. This is a globalisation issue and the continued exportation of jobs to cheap labour overseas is not sustainable in the long term.”
He said he would be discussing with business leaders how to use the factory when work ends.
“We need to make sure this strategically well-placed site remains protected as a site for manufacturing and engineering,” he added.
Shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna said: “Ford’s decision to cease vehicle production in the UK marks the end of an era and is a devastating blow to the Ford workers set to lose their jobs, with many more put at risk in Ford UK’s supply chain too.
“Whereas for years White Van Man has driven the iconic Ford Transit, the workhorse of British business assembled in the UK, he will now have to buy it from Turkey as a result of this announcement.
“At a time when we are looking to diversify our economy and create more skilled manufacturing jobs, this decision highlights the continuing need for the Government to implement an active industrial strategy to grow the productive sectors of our economy.
“Ford UK’s announcement, in one of Britain’s successful and growing sectors, shows there is no room for any complacency about the need to strengthen the recovery when, even after today’s GDP figures, our economy is only just back to the same size as a year ago - 12 months of damaging flat-lining which has seen borrowing rise in the first half of this year.”