Ford says it “acknowledges” the French competition authority’s refusal to approve its plans for its transmission plant at Blanquefort near Bordeaux.

The US manufacturer has put the site up for sale threatening nearly 900 jobs and after rejecting an offer from Punch Powerglide which would have secured around 400 posts, but has now been rebuffed by competition body, Direccte.

News of Direccte’s (Direction Régionale des Entreprises de la Concurrence de la Consommation du Travail et de l’Emploi) decision will offer staff some temporary relief, but brings no promise of long-term employment potential.

“After a delay increased by the requests for further information, the decision of Direccte is now known and founded in law,” noted a Direccte statement.

“In fact, the procedure, with regard to the control points imposed by Direccte, have led to a decision to refuse approval of the unilateral document for jobs safeguard.”

Ford’s earlier rejection of Punch Powerglide’s offer was met with an astonishingly robust tirade by French Finance Minister, Bruno Le Maire when he lambasted the American company’s decision as ‘cowardice’ and a ‘lie’ just before Christmas.

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“I am revolted by this decision – I want to denounce the cowardice of Ford with whom I have been asking to speak for three days and which has not even had the courage to call,” said Le Maire. “I denounce Ford’s lie…which says the Punch takeover offer is not credible although we have been working on it for months with Punch staff.”

So far, the outspoken senior politician has not made a pronouncement on Direccte’s decision, but the move puts the future of FAI staff, with an average age of 51, in yet more limbo.

Labour bodies, regional Councils and the French government previously united in condemning Ford’s move, with unions in particular expressing fears the workforce will struggle to find future employment should the site close.

Ford confined itself to a short statement sent to just-auto, noting it was now evaluating the competition authority’s move.

“We acknowledge the Dirrecte’s concerns with the social plan submitted by FAI,” said Ford. “We are reviewing the decision.”

The automaker previously noted it had presented a “comprehensive social plan including extensive redeployment leave” starting in October, 2019, a favourable early retirement programme and repositioning within GFT, together with measures to help employees relocate with new employers or pursue new career opportunities, such as business creation or reconversion training.