Ford of Europe said it would add new engines and increase staff at its Bridgend, Wales, plant despite coming under a barrage of fire from UK unions following its decision to drastically end British vehicle production and associated stamping and tooling operations.

The automaker yesterday (25 October) announced it would shut its Southampton Transit plant in southern England and also axe stamping and tooling operations at its Dagenham complex, east of London, in a move that will cost more than 1,000 UK jobs, although union estimates are vastly higher.

The Unite union has accused Ford of "betraying its loyal workforce" and insists it will fight the closures it says will also cost further jobs in the supply chain.

"This announcement has been handled disgracefully," said Unite general secretary, Len McCluskey. "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.

"Unite will be meeting with our own UK union representatives and our European colleagues over the coming days to discuss the next steps."

The UK labour body claimed Ford's announcement it would build its Panther diesel engine in Dagenham and that further work, developed at its propulsion plant in Bridgend and design centre in Dunton, would not produce any more jobs, but Ford points to extra business being secured at its Welsh plant.

"I told unions we have been in discussion with Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) to add engines in Bridgend and we would employ [more] people," Ford of Europe chairman and CEO, Stephen Odell, said.

"We did also announce the next two-litre, diesel, low-CO2 engines would be built in the UK with obvious considerable investment. We are still investing in the UK in a very large fashion."

[Ford's Bridgend site made engines for some JLR models when the British automaker, now owned by Tata Motors, was part of Ford. Since Tata bought JLR, Ford has continued to supply engines under contract though JLR is building its own engine plant in Wolverhampton - ed]

Odell added Southampton's relatively small capacity was a driver behind the decision to axe the site, while he also insisted the total number of redundancies would be smaller than some are estimating.

"The capacity element is evidenced by the fact Southampton built around 28,000 chassis cabs last year," he said. "It is simple weight of numbers.

"Our estimate is around 1,000 people - maybe slightly above - will take voluntary separation which is above anything we are legally obliged to do and we will...move others into other sites."

Unite says there will be a mass meeting of workers from Southampton on 29 October.

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