Ford Bridgend’s closure highlights the problems with the Welsh Government’s economic policy

Approach road to the Ford Engine Plant, Waterton Industrial Estate, Bridgend. Copyright Mick Lobb and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Luke Fletcher, Pencoed Councillor and Plaid Cymru 2021 Candidate for Ogmore

I write this article with a heavy heart.

The confirmed closure of Ford in Bridgend will see over 1,700 jobs being lost – and that’s without considering the number of jobs that will be lost in the supply chain. Put simply, this is the biggest economic shock since the closure of the pits.

Many people have commented saying “the writing has been on the walls for years”, and it is true to say that the factory has seen some turbulent times in the past few years and no one is disputing that.

However, the scale of what has happened was a shock.

It was expected that somewhere in the region of a thousand jobs would be lost, with over four hundred workers taking voluntary redundancy. But for those who worked in the factory for decades, no one anticipated the entire factory would be shut down.

Our workers deserve better than this.

Investment

Yes, the future of the factory had been under question for some time. The Welsh Government had even previously invested in the factory in a bid to keep it afloat.

But a question that comes to mind is how proactive was the Government, really? The decline of manufacturing in Wales as a whole has been systematic of a Labour Government who are managerial in their approach rather than proactive and ambitious, meaning that Wales has missed out on so many opportunities for investment and development.

It’s important to note that Ford as a company is not closing. It still exists. It’s still growing. And it’s still investing in other countries and new technologies across the world.

Let us look at Ottowa in Canada, for example. In March 2017 Ford invested £337.9m in an Autonomous Vehicle centre. They actively invested in new technology to take advantage of a future market that is surely set to grow.

For the past 20 years, we have missed out on developing emerging technologies purely because we have not invested in cutting edge infrastructure – in the case of AVs in Canada, digital infrastructure.

Business

So, has the Welsh Government been proactive? Have they gone to Ford, and companies like it, and asked them directly, what do you need to stay here from us for the next thirty to forty years?

This also highlights another problem with the current pursuit of the Welsh Government when it comes to economic policy – its pursuit of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).

Of course, FDI looks amazing. Global companies coming to your town and building huge factories creating thousands of jobs. It sounds great. But at what cost?

The fact is, despite the Welsh Government giving millions in an attempt to keep Ford here, Ford has still decided to leave. In its wake, entire families are now facing a future of unemployment and uncertainty.

That is why we need a radical shift.

We need to look at growing Welsh businesses to help plug this gap and also to create globally competitive businesses that are grounded firmly here in Wales.

There’s nothing inherent about Wales lacking businesses.

Local

I still have hope. As they say, where there is a will there is a way. It could transpire that Ford stays. Maybe a new company will come along or we might even see a Welsh-born business grow to fill the gap. But the fact of the matter is quite simple. With the number of jobs lost, the local economy will suffer.

What is often overlooked, of course, is the people at the heart of this story. To those outside of the story looking in, this is just another factory closure and merely sentences and figures on a page.

But the closure of Ford will have an effect on the lives of local people for some time to come and with that, the very fabric of social society.

Wales needs strong leadership. Wales needs proactive leadership. Wales needs ambitious leadership.

Wales needs a vision for the future that offers more than what we have now.

I hope all of us can work together to build that Wales.

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