France’s Finance Minister is insisting Ford “must pay” for a social plan at its transmissions plant near Bordeaux, which will see 850 staff made redundant.

Bruno Le Maire delivered a withering assessment of Ford’s decision to walk away from the Blanquefort site in August this year, which has also seen the Force Ouvrière (FO), CFE-CGC and Confédération Générale du Travail (CGT) unions, wage an ultimately fruitless battle to save the plant.

The Finance Minister recently said Belgian component producer, Punch Powerglide had made a new offer for Ford’s site, which could have secured around 400 of the 850 jobs, but the American manufacturer definitively dashed any hope of reprieve for the site where the average age of staff is 51

“Ford must pay,” said Le Maire in a transcription sent to just-auto from his Paris office. “Ford must pay what they owe to employees and we want the social plan for staff to be the most solid possible. Ford must pay for the site and guarantee the depollution of the site – Ford must pay for the re-industrialisation of the site.

“We deeply regret this decision by Ford – what counts the most is the staff and industrial future of the site. We have created a group between the local authorities and State, [as well as] unions to work on the future of Blanquefort.”

There have been calls from some quarters for France to nationalise the plant, but Le Maire seemed to shy away from launching an all-out purchase of the site, whose fate is being mirrored across other sectors of manufacturing in the country.

“The State has no vocation to produce gearboxes,” added the Finance Minister. “On the other hand I am minded if the takeover offer from Punch had been accepted by Ford, that would pose me no difficulties if the State could ensure the transition between Ford and Punch, taking possession of the plant for some weeks or months.

“But behind that, the Punch takeover is accepted by Ford and the State is the guarantee, that is to say French citizens are the guarantee. The State has fought from start to finish for the Blanquefort plant. I fought for this takeover because we thought this takeover was solid and it was the best industrial solution.”

Former French Prime Minister, Alain Juppé, who is also Mayor of Bordeaux, equally lined up on the union side, urging Paris to urge Ford “at last take responsibility to finance a true revitalisation plan” for the site.

Ford has never confirmed Punch as a possible buyer of the Blanquefort factory, despite the French Finance Minister’s assertion, but it nonetheless said it had submitted a “comprehensive” social plan.

“We understand the impact of the decision to cease production at FAI on our workforce, their families and the local community,” said a Ford statement sent to just-auto.

“This is why FAI has presented a comprehensive social plan that includes redeployment and early retirement programmes, together with measures to help employees relocate with new employers, create their own business or be trained for new career opportunities.

“We also are working together with the French authorities on a strong revitalisation plan to help reduce the impact in the local area and will share more once the details are finalised.”