In news that has long been feared by the UK’s recovering vehicle manufacturing industry, Ford last week announced the closure of their Transit van production plant in Southampton.
And the bad news doesn’t stop there for Britain’s stabilising economy, as the US firm also revealed its plans to close their even larger stamping and tooling plant in Dagenham, Essex.
The human cost of these closures will be significant, with Ford believing the number of job losses to be in the region of 1,400 - 500 in Southampton and 800 in Dagenham - although unions at the two plants believe the figure will be closer to 2,000.
The recent UK announcement comes just a day after the news that the Ford factory in Genk, Belgium, which supports a workforce of 4,300 is also due to close.
The reason for the mass cutback is Ford’s current overcapacity in the European market. Despite the fact that the UK’s car market is currently on the rise, vehicle sales throughout the rest of Europe are not fairing so well, having fallen 20 per cent since 2007.
The closure of the Southampton plant has been a particularly bitter pill to swallow given the heritage of Ford vehicle manufacture in the area, which has been well established for 40 years, with the Swaything factory in the city having produced an estimated 2.2 million vans since it opened in 1972.
There has been much wrangling between Ford and their Southampton workforce, who accuse Ford of betraying them. Disputes with unions have been ongoing since 2009, when the first batch of redundancies was announced which effectively halved the workforce. Much of the contention arises from the justification given for these redundancies - that they were necessary to protect the future of the Southampton facility.
Employees in Southampton do not plan on taking the latest batch of redundancies lying down, vowing to fight on amidst claims that Ford had promised workers in Southampton that a new Transit model would be built in Southampton from 2014.
The job losses have been tempered slightly by the announcement that Ford does intend to add a new low-CO2 diesel engine line at its Dagenham plant, as well as injecting additional investment into its Bridgend engine plant in South Wales. However, this will bring little comfort in Southampton when Transit production is relocated to a plant in Kocaeli, Turkey.
The planned closures have been described as “disappointing” by UK Government Business Secretary Danny Alexander, who was quick to emphasise that the UK vehicle manufacturing industry was healthier than it had been for years.
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