With your permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the future of Ford’s engine plant in Bridgend, south Wales.
On Thursday, Ford announced the start of a consultation with its unions concerning the potential closure of the Ford Bridgend engine plant in south Wales. I am not going to understate what a bitter blow this is to the 1,700 skilled and dedicated workers at Ford in Bridgend and their families, to the many more people and businesses who supply the plant, and to the town of Bridgend and the wider community. Our focus will be on working with Ford and the unions to understand the challenges and opportunities and to gain the best possible outcomes. I have spoken with the company, the unions and colleagues across the House. Colleagues at Jobcentre Plus are standing ready to provide advice and support to people, if required.
I live close by and absolutely understand the importance of this plant to the local community. The site has been worth over £3 billion to the local economy over the last 10 years. The town of Bridgend has proudly been home for 40 years to a world-class engine manufacturing facility. Ford has relied on Bridgend and Dagenham to supply one third of its total engines worldwide—a fact held with great pride by the employees.
We have known for some time that the production of the Sigma engine was coming to its natural end and that the Jaguar Land Rover contract would not be renewed, but the news that the Dragon engine may no longer be produced in the UK is disappointing, to say the least. It is very disappointing that it could be taken out of the UK and, in fact, out of Europe, to be manufactured in Mexico. That underlines that this was not a decision about Brexit. The decision was about the challenging conditions faced right across the global automotive sector.
Bridgend has been particularly impacted by the downturn in Ford’s share of the passenger vehicle market in Europe, with volumes of the new Dragon engine falling significantly below the installed capacity at the site. Ford is restructuring its business across Europe to significantly decrease structural costs and allow for investment in future electrification. To that end, it is optimising its European manufacturing footprint and reducing operations in France, Germany and Spain. Bridgend is significantly underutilised, with projections of the number of engines that it will produce falling far below what would be commercially viable in a single plant. Bridgend also faces a significant cost disadvantage compared with other Ford facilities around the world building the same engine.
I have spoken to my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary, colleagues in the Welsh Government, the trade unions and other representatives since Ford’s announcement last week. The Business Secretary and I have spoken with local Members of Parliament, too. Together, we will continue to engage with all stakeholders and elected representatives. Although Mrs Moon cannot be in the Chamber today, I spoke with her on Friday.
We in the UK Government are committed to working closely with the Welsh Government and the local community to ensure that south Wales’ justified reputation as a place of industrial excellence in manufacturing and technology is maintained and expanded. On Thursday, the Welsh Government’s Minister for Economy and Infrastructure announced the establishment of a taskforce to work with partners over the difficult weeks and months ahead to find a sustainable, long-term solution for the plant and its workforce. UK Government Departments and I will play a full and active part in that body. That builds on the existing group that has been working jointly since it was confirmed that the Jaguar Land Rover engine would end in 2020. It is important that it builds on the Honda taskforce, working together to support the automotive industry in general.
We are already looking at opportunities to attract new investment to the area. I remain optimistic that south Wales is an attractive proposition and place for industry to operate from. In fact, over the last two years, I have been in Japan, China and the USA to promote the opportunities that Wales presents for the advanced manufacturing sector and our modern industrial strategy. Last year, Aston Martin announced that it will bring the production of the DBX vehicle there, which will create 750 jobs for St Athan. Last September, it announced a further £50 million investment that will make south Wales the home of its electric vehicle range.
I and many other colleagues across the House have worked hard over the last three years to make the case for investment in Britain. Despite the devastating news for south Wales operations, Ford’s commitment to the UK will remain as a major employer of some 10,000 people, with other significant operations in the country, including Ford’s technical centre in Dunton, Essex, which is home to Ford’s European market-leading commercial vehicle business; Ford’s engine facility in Dagenham, where it will continue to produce diesel engines; Ford’s mobility innovation office in London, where it will develop future mobility solutions in Europe; and the Halewood transmission plant, producing transmissions for cars such as the Ford Fiesta.
It remains the case that Ford, as an American company with a century-long history of operating successfully in the UK, undoubtedly recognises our international reputation as a place to do business, with skilled and innovative staff, access to innovation and a strong determination to make those strengths even greater in the years ahead. This is the Government’s ambition, as is well evidenced by the steps we have most recently taken to build on the successes of our automotive sector deal.
Our Advanced Propulsion Centre has awarded grants worth more than £800 million to more than 150 organisations across the UK. Just last month, the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend Andrew Stephenson, announced a further £28 million of support to further enhance our UK Battery Industrialisation Centre, giving investment of more than £100 million in a world-leading facility to enable industry and academia to put the UK at the forefront of bringing battery technologies from the lab into the next generation of vehicles to drive on our streets. Working with industry, £80 million of investment through our driving the electric revolution programme will see support for innovation in electric motor technologies.
We are determined to ensure that the UK remains one of the most competitive locations in the world for automotive and other advanced manufacturing. The announcement of this consultation by Ford is a disappointing blow, but the Government’s bold mission to put the UK at the forefront of the design and manufacturing of zero emission vehicles presents significant new opportunities for the UK. That includes new industries and ventures that will be well suited to the skills and expertise of those dedicated workers at Ford and their suppliers. I remain committed to ensuring that Bridgend and other parts of Wales benefit from that work. We will continue to work with the Welsh Government and our many partners across the industry as we seize the opportunity for Britain to provide great jobs and careers for hundreds of thousands of people across our country in the years ahead. I commend the statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement.
Last Thursday’s news of the closure of the Ford plant in Bridgend was absolutely devastating for the exceptional workforce, their families, the town of Bridgend and the wider south Wales community. As a former Bridgend county borough councillor, I completely understand. It is absolutely devastating for the businesses in Ford’s supply chain and the tens of thousands employed in them, and it is absolutely devastating for the automotive sector, UK manufacturing and our entire economy. Ford must rethink its plans to strip away 1,700 highly skilled, quality jobs from the area, and the UK Government must do all they can to support those dedicated workers.
This news is disastrous for all concerned. The chaos caused by the Tory Government’s calamitous handling of Brexit, coupled with the Secretary of State’s continuing inability to stand up for Wales, has allowed Ford to deliver a hammer blow to the workers in Bridgend and the Welsh economy. This is a betrayal of the hard-working and loyal staff who have been committed to delivering savings in making the Bridgend plant one of the most efficient in the world.
It is clear that Ford needs urgently to reverse this treacherous decision and to stand by the highly skilled workforce in Bridgend, rather than chasing profits via cheaper markets in places such as Mexico and India. It is disgraceful that Ford no longer produces a single vehicle in the UK despite its growing market share of car sales. Companies such as Ford originally chose to locate production plants in the UK because it was renowned for its skilled workforce and seen as economically stable compared with other turbulent markets across the world, but the Government’s botched Brexit has changed this. It is causing chaos and uncertainty and undermining business confidence.
Ford is just the latest in a long list of companies, including Airbus, Nissan, Honda and Jaguar Land Rover, to halt investment, cut jobs or close plants as a direct result of this uncertainty. We know that the Tory Government offered Nissan a deal. Was Ford offered a deal? There can be no doubt that this Government’s reckless threats of no deal, accelerated by a self-indulgent leadership contest with hard-Brexit contenders, is having an impact on business decisions across the UK, not just in Wales. Yet again, this is catastrophic news for Wales—news that has come as a direct result of UK Government shortcomings where Wales is concerned and that follows their shortcomings on rail electrification, the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon and the steel industry. This is just one of a string of failures on the Secretary of State’s watch. I call on him to apply pressure on Ford to do the right thing and rethink its catastrophic plans.
I thank my hon. Friend Mrs Moon for all the work that she has done to support the plant and its workforce, now and in many previous years. I also thank my hon. Friend Chris Elmore—who represents the neighbouring constituency—for all that he is doing to support the many hundreds of people in the area who are being affected. I thank other Welsh Labour Members whose constituents work at Bridgend Ford and in its supply chain, and I thank the trade unions.
The automotive industry is the backbone of our manufacturing sector, supporting highly skilled, quality employment and making an enormous contribution to our economy, but its future, in Bridgend and across the UK, is in jeopardy. I call on the Secretary of State to do now what he has failed to do previously and stand up for Wales. He must speak with Cabinet colleagues to seek the financial support and stimulus which will match what has already been committed by the Welsh Government.
I thank the hon. Lady for her comments, but I must express disappointment in the tone that she chose to take, which contrasted with the tone adopted by both the Welsh Government and the unions.
Earlier, the Business Secretary and I spoke to Ken Skates, the unions and many local Members of Parliament as part of a communications plan to share our ambitions and discuss the steps that we will take before the taskforce meets, hopefully later this week. Ken Skates and I will be joint vice-chairs of that taskforce and there will also be a chair from industry. That demonstrates the joint approach that we are taking, in a constructive way, recognising that this is a commercial decision made by Ford because of the change in the marketplace caused by the shift from petrol and diesel engines to electric vehicles. I commend the Welsh Government for the joint working that they have demonstrated so far, and I commend the unions for their engagement and the tone that they have adopted in the discussions.
Like many other Members, the hon. Lady pointed to Brexit. Those Members are being somewhat selective. It is right that the manufacturing sector, in particular, seeks a stable economic environment from which to export to the European market, but Ford was a strong supporter of the Prime Minister’s deal, which the Labour party chose to vote against. Whatever uncertainty exists over the Brexit negotiations, I think that the hon. Lady and other Labour Members need to accept their responsibility. They played a part in that. They have been highly selective in quoting comments and recommendations from Ford.
The hon. Lady was right to say that this is a highly efficient plant with a very skilled workforce. We will continue to work to attract investment in the site, be it from Ford—although we have not succeeded in doing that since the Jaguar Land Rover engine contract was announced—or others. We will also engage with other potential investors in the Brocastle site, which is adjacent to the Ford plant. We are in discussion with some potential investors at a mature stage, but it will be up to those organisations to make the final decision about whether to invest. We are in discussion with other organisations in the automotive sector that could provide exciting opportunities. We all recognise the skill and the quality of the workforce. The potential investors recognise it, which is why they are engaging so positively with us and with the Welsh Government. I also underline that Ford job losses are also taking place in Europe: there have been 5,000 job losses in Germany as well as job losses and shift changes in Spain.
In closing my response to the hon. Lady, I remind her that there are now 100,000 more manufacturing jobs in the UK economy and 13,000 more manufacturing jobs in Wales than there were in 2010.
Does my right hon. Friend welcome the fact that so many politicians in Cardiff Bay and London who only last week were proclaiming climate change emergencies and competing for who could demand the fastest possible ban on petrol and diesel engines have suddenly become champions of the manufacturing of petrol and diesel engines in this country?
My hon. Friend makes an important point and highlights the shift taking place in the industry from petrol and diesel engines to electric vehicles. Some manufacturers are trying to catch up with the fast-changing consumer demand, but it is absolutely right that the UK is at the forefront of this technology, which is why we are investing so much in the sector to ensure we are active in the next generation of motor vehicles.
My constituency has suffered severe losses in manufacturing over the years, so I fully understand the devastating impact this can have on local communities, including the knock-on effects on shops and service providers. What supply chain impact assessment has been done as a result of the decision by Ford? What funding guarantees can be given to match Government actions, rather than just warm words?
The Secretary of State said that Brexit is not responsible for this decision, but Ford was one of the companies that warned of the dangers of a no-deal Brexit, so when will this Government rule out a no-deal Brexit to stop any further job losses in the manufacturing sector?
I have a few more questions.
The Secretary of State said in his statement that Bridgend faces cost disadvantages compared with other Ford plants doing the same work. How long has this cost disadvantage issue been known about and what opportunities have the Government looked at to overcome that and to support the plant? What opportunities have been identified by the existing working group, formed in 2018, to plug the gap by the loss of the Jaguar Land Rover contract and how will the new taskforce build on that and identify the much bigger gap and challenge that needs to be overcome? What future investment will the UK Government make to ensure there are no further cost disadvantages to any companies located in this area? The Secretary of State also said they were already looking at opportunities for investment in the area, so can he give timescales for positive announcements on the opportunities that have been identified?
I understand why the Secretary of State gave assurances about the other Ford plant operations across the UK, but how robust are those assurances? Padding out his statement by mentioning a £28 million investment in Coventry, £800 million in UK-wide grants from the Advanced Propulsion Centre and £80 million for the electric revolution programme is of absolutely no comfort to the Bridgend workers. What we need to hear is that the right actions are being taken now, not platitudes.
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point about supply chains and that was considered as part of our conference call discussing the formation of the taskforce. Work is undergoing to map the suppliers who supply Ford in Bridgend. We plan to then cross that over with the same work that is being done in relation to Honda in Swindon. A supplier might well be able to manage better the hit from one automotive manufacturer. The hit from two could obviously cause greater challenges and we want to work to respond to that. On funding, whatever support has been provided to the suppliers to Honda in Swindon is equally available to those who supply Ford in Bridgend.
The hon. Gentleman again points to Brexit, but I say to him that the automotive sector was a strong supporter of the deal the Prime Minister and the Government have agreed with the European Commission. The hon. Gentleman would do well to heed all of the sector’s message, if it wants to repeat some of the statements that it has made.
In relation to opportunities, the Government are investing significantly in the next generation of automotive vehicles not only through UK Government public funds but through attracting private investment in this field. Some of these investors are looking at locations in Europe and in the UK, and those are the organisations that we are naturally engaging with to ensure that the UK continues to play an active part at the forefront of this sector.
Will the Government now review the very high vehicle excise duties they have imposed, as well as the squeeze on car loans and the regulatory uncertainty about buying new petrol and diesel, because these are all factors that have done a lot of damage to demand and output in the UK car industry?
My right hon. Friend makes the important point that Europe faces similar challenges. I have already pointed to the 5,000 jobs that have been lost in the automotive sector in Germany, and we are seeing similar challenges in Spain and elsewhere. Many of these issues are being driven by consumer demand, but some are being driven by regulation, and I think every regulator needs to reflect on the demands from the climate change challenge together with the risks that it poses in the short term until the technology catches up.
I should like to start by welcoming the Secretary of State’s statement, and I thank him and the Business Secretary for the constructive way in which they have engaged with me as the Member for the neighbouring constituency, in which a large majority of the workforce actually live, and with my hon. Friend Mrs Moon. We have been meeting the workforce and the unions over the weekend, and I welcome the way in which they are working with the Welsh Government.
It is reassuring to hear the Secretary of State say that he is willing to work in the taskforce and to do all he can to help to support the workforce, but can he set out here and now what he will do if there is a need for UK Government fiscal intervention to protect those jobs and possibly to make Ford change its mind? I believe that Ford still has questions to answer, given that just three weeks ago it was talking about the Dragon line being the most efficient of any of the plants across the world, including in Mexico.
My priority will be the families in my constituency who will be left devastated by this and the communities in my constituency that have not recovered from the de-industrialisation of the 1980s. This really will be a hammer blow to so many of them right across Ogmore, Bridgend, Aberavon and many other constituencies. We need a fiscal stimulus package and an automotive sector deal so that we can protect these jobs and these workers and ensure that these families have some security beyond September 2020.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for raising those points and for his comments and contributions in the call that we had earlier today. He rightly points out that this is a consultation from Ford, and we will therefore work closely with the unions in challenging the assumptions and statements that Ford has made where we believe them not to be the case.
The UK has a good record of investment in this sector. According to the latest available data, there is a 20% uplift in investment in the automotive sector, which demonstrates that we still remain attractive. We will of course work closely with the Welsh Government on attracting investment to the area, to serve the hon. Member’s constituents and the employees who come from a much wider field than just the community of Bridgend. We remember that there was a Ford plant in Swansea not so long ago and that people travelled to that. The effects therefore stretch much further west, east and north than just the Bridgend site.
The Welsh Government clearly have a responsibility under the devolution settlement for economic developments, but we will continue to work closely with them, as well as with the Department for International Trade, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the whole might of Whitehall to support the employees by attracting investment to that site.
The shadow Secretary of State, Christina Rees, has sought to blame Brexit for Ford’s decision, but Stuart Rowley, the European President of Ford, has said in terms that it has nothing to do with Brexit. He has also said that
“if Brexit had never happened, would there be a different decision, and the answer to that is no.”
Does my right hon. Friend not agree that it is particularly regrettable that Opposition Members should seek so cynically to exploit the personal tragedy of 1,700 people for such nakedly political purposes?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for underlining the points in relation to Brexit, because Ford has stated clearly that Brexit has nothing to do with this decision. Furthermore, there would be more credibility in the Opposition’s points about Brexit if the engine plant was being shifted from the UK to anywhere else in the European Union, but we know that production is being shifted to Mexico. Therefore, I do not think the Brexit argument stacks up, and my right hon. Friend makes an important point that it is disappointing that many people will still refer to Brexit, which will undermine the potential for further investment in the site.
This is a devastating blow for the workforce, many of whom are from my Aberavon constituency. The Secretary of State keeps saying that the situation in other EU countries is also difficult, but none of them has seen investment in the automotive sector drop by 80% in the past three years. The fact is that this Government are like a driverless vehicle and have been for the past three years. Their botched Brexit and general incompetence have seen confidence drain away from the automotive sector. When will we see a proper industrial strategy that helps the sector move from diesel and petrol to electric?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about the need to attract investment in this sector, but he is somewhat selective with the data that he presents. All automotive manufacturers have had challenges to meet in relation to changing consumer demand. For example, the UK is leading the way in attracting investment in the sector, and not only in terms of the scale of the money that I have already highlighted. Some 20% of all electric vehicles sold in Europe are manufactured here in the UK, which demonstrates that we are playing a prominent role.
It is true that this sad announcement has come during a once-in-a-hundred-year change within the global automotive sector, and so much of European automotive manufacturing finds itself on the wrong side of that change. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that underlines the need for a proper, joined-up industrial strategy for Wales, linked up between Cardiff and Westminster, with a focus on skills and education, which are not good enough in Wales, on improving transport, which is not good enough in Wales, and on improving and creating a more pro-business environment across the whole of Wales?
The UK’s modern industrial strategy clearly sets out the foundation for an approach across the UK that includes the automotive sector deal and other deals across a whole range of sectors, and the Welsh Government’s economic action plan dovetails well with that. However, my right hon. Friend makes an important point that we need to continue to work closely to ensure that the implementation of all that is as efficient as it should be, to be attractive to investors and to avoid extra complication due to the devolved Administrations. My right hon. Friend the Business Secretary, Ken Skates and I talk regularly about our ambitions to attract investment on a joint basis, and we work closely with the Department for International Trade, too.
The Secretary of State has been on an interesting journey from supporting remain during the referendum, when he said that the people of Wales could “suffer enormously” if they voted for Brexit, to supporting the most extreme Brexiteer in the Tory leadership—a reckless no-dealer. The reality is that we have a Secretary of State representing my country who is more interested in his own career than in the jobs of thousands of manufacturers back home in Wales.
The hon. Gentleman wants an independent Wales, but I am unsure what opportunities that would create for attracting investment in the Welsh economy. He will be well aware that I am a strong supporter of a deal with the European Union, but I have also stated clearly that maintaining no deal as an option, a challenge and a risk, both for the European Union and for the UK economy, focuses minds on gaining a deal. A deal will also create the best opportunities for the UK and European economies to continue to attract investment and to gain access to one another’s markets.
I will never forget the incredibly warm welcome I was given by my colleagues at Ford in Bridgend when I started there as a foreman in 1980, just a short time after it opened. I view this situation with huge sadness, which is why I urge the Secretary of State and the Business Secretary, who is sitting next to him, to do everything in their power to ensure that this factory continues, whether with Ford or with anybody else. In fact, Ford used to have a strong presence in Wales—not just in Swansea but also at Treforest, where it made sparkplugs. It is a great site, with railway and motorway links, and it must employ at least 1,700 people in the future, if not more, in high-quality manufacturing jobs. It deserves it.
My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point and speaks with passion and real understanding based on his experience of having worked at the site. He talks about the warm welcome, but the workforce has responded efficiently since the time he would have been working there to the opportunities to become one of the most efficient engine plants in Europe, which is commendable. There will be a great opportunity to attract further investment to the area not only because of the skills and assets among the workforce, but due to the site’s attractiveness. He mentions connectivity, with the site being close to the motorway, and I would also highlight the railway line that goes directly to the site, which is used to take the engines that are currently manufactured to the midlands and Europe.
The circumstances facing Bridgend are obviously different from those that surrounded the collapse of MG Rover at Longbridge over a decade ago, but I still know something about the impact that the closure of a major car plant can have not only on jobs, but on a community’s sense of identity. The first message from this Chamber must therefore be one of solidarity with the workers of Ford at Bridgend and their families.
May I ask the Secretary of State two things? First, he said that he met the company, so has he suggested any alternatives to closure? If so, what were those alternatives; I did not hear them in his statement? Secondly, while Brexit may not be the immediate cause of this announcement, he knows that it is relevant to virtually every decision that any automotive manufacturer is making at the moment. Is this news not just further evidence that we must avoid no deal at all costs?
The hon. Gentleman makes an extremely important point about the sense of identity, and we view those comments positively because of the ownership that is felt in the community around the plant. However, it stretches far wider than that, which is why I was so keen to engage positively with the unions before the announcement became public, and I have also spoken to them on several occasions subsequently. As for challenging the assumptions that Ford has made, we will of course work closely with the unions, which have a better understanding of the actual factors in play within the plant. We will then work in challenging Ford on those issues.
I say to those who seek to try to blame Brexit for the decision that we are working hard to attract investment both to this site and to Wales. Opposition Members seek to misrepresent the position, because Ford has clearly stated that it proposes to take the production of the new engine to Mexico. I hope that people will not want to bring too much politics into the reality of trying to attract investment.
The Secretary of State represents the constituency next door to the plant, yet he will not rule out a no-deal Brexit. That is utterly irresponsible and provides the context, even if not the immediate cause, for why the automotive sector in this country, including at Ford in Bridgend, is on the brink, with 10,000 jobs at risk, with 50,000 more in the supply chain. When is he going to show some leadership?
In February 2019, Ford said explicitly that the possibility of a no-deal Brexit was jeopardising its investment in the UK, including at Bridgend. Ford reportedly said directly to the Prime Minister that she must rule out a no-deal Brexit, lest we lose jobs. Just last week, the head of Make UK, representing manufacturing across this country, said that there is now a direct causal link between the threat of no deal by Conservative Members who are vying for the leadership, including the Secretary of State, and the loss of manufacturing jobs. How many more jobs do we need to lose in Wales and elsewhere before he tells Boris Johnson that we must never have a no-deal Brexit?
The hon. Gentleman quotes Ford from February, but I can quote Ford from before each and every meaningful vote in this House. It is strange that he is happy to heed Ford’s calls when it suits him but did not respond to its calls to vote in favour of the deal that the Prime Minister agreed with the European Commission. On job numbers, I point to the record job creation numbers we have seen in Wales in recent times, which compare favourably with when his party was in government.
Some 27% of our output in the Gwent valleys comes from manufacturing, and some of our leading employers in Blaenau Gwent are in the automotive sector. Can the Secretary of State guarantee that Ford workers and suppliers will get the same package of financial support that was offered to Honda just up the M4?
Yes, I can. I have already stated that the support made available to Honda and its supply chain will be available to Ford and its supply chain. The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about the manufacturing sector, which is extremely important to the Welsh economy. I am sure he shares in the recognition that there are now 13,000 more manufacturing jobs in Wales than there were in 2010.
Ford’s announcement is indeed a bitter blow for workers at Bridgend and will be felt across south Wales, and all our efforts should be put into supporting those who are affected. With the car industry in crisis, the steelworkers I met on Friday at Cogent, owned by Tata, want the Government to be proactive in helping to develop and support the supply chain for electric vehicles. Companies like Orb have the workforce and the expertise, but what will the Government do to support such companies through the industrial strategy for the future of this industry?
The hon. Lady highlights the £1.1 billion that has been made available through a range of schemes, including the Faraday challenge, the Stephenson challenge, the autonomous vehicle initiative and the advanced propulsion centre. These schemes are available to companies across the whole UK, and many Welsh organisations are making active use of them.
Whether in terms of its impact on just-in-time manufacturing, on tariffs or, indeed, on regulatory alignment, no deal would be a disastrous outcome for manufacturing. Does the Secretary of State agree that anyone who wishes to keep that outcome on the table as a credible option simply is not putting Wales first?
The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee has looked into Brexit and the effect it will have on the manufacturing sector. The automotive sector was very clear that the current deal suits it and that no deal would be an absolute disaster. The Secretary of State has a responsibility today, in making this statement, to give assurances to the Welsh workforce that he will rule out no deal. Will he tell his favoured candidate that that is what the ultimate representatives are saying? Let him not ignore them.
Can we have an industrial strategy that is nimble enough to help those affected by these closures, liquidations and, yes, suspensions, which are becoming a trend?
The hon. Gentleman talks about remaining in Europe, but the sector strongly supports the deal that the Prime Minister negotiated with the European Commission. The Government and I responded positively to the sector’s statements. Perhaps he should have also supported the sector and responded to it at that time, too.
A constituent of mine, like many other workers, has been back to the plant today and took the time to message me. He says that Ford is telling the workers that the plant is no longer viable. This is a bitter pill to swallow because the UK has been one of Ford’s best markets throughout the years. The employees feel that the plant has been manipulated by Ford into no longer being viable.
I have two questions for the Secretary of State. In a potential post-Brexit United Kingdom, where will the 1,700 jobs in south Wales—plus the impact on the supply chain—come from? Moreover, will he explain why he believes that Boris Johnson will be the saviour of the future prosperity and wellbeing of the people of Wales? I and many of my colleagues believe that actions speak louder than words, and the only words I have heard from the Secretary of State today are potential, not action.
The hon. Lady asks where the jobs will come from, which is a reasonable and fair question. We work closely with the unions and the Welsh Government in seeking to exploit every opportunity to attract investment to the site, be it from Ford or from any other manufacturer or organisation. The UK’s industrial strategy clearly sets out ambitions for the UK to become a leader in the next generation of automotive. The advanced propulsion centre, the Stephenson challenge and the Faraday challenge, from which Welsh companies are already significantly benefiting, highlight why we have seen such a sharp uplift in investment in the sector for the latest full-year statistics that are available, and for the opportunities that come thereafter.
I have already highlighted what Ford has said, but I can also point to Aston Martin, McLaren and Toyota. So many organisations that either operate or are based in Wales, or elsewhere in the UK, strongly support the deal that the Prime Minister has negotiated, but the hon. Lady chose to vote against it, which I find very disappointing.
Although the whole House is concentrating on the actions that the Government should take to save jobs at Bridgend, this news sends a chill down the spine of all car workers in this country and of those in the supply chain. I have workers at Vauxhall who must be very concerned. The Secretary of State said earlier that he is working closely with the Business Secretary. Will the two of them bring before the House, as soon as possible, the proactive moves they are now making to save car jobs in this country so that we do not have another appalling statement like this one?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for making those points. The investment at Ellesmere Port is clearly important not only to his constituency but to the north Wales economy, where many of the employees will come from. Vauxhall, of course, has committed to investing in Luton, and we continue to discuss and attract further investment by Vauxhall, but this commitment demonstrates its interest and recognition of the UK workforce’s expertise, both at Ford in Bridgend and in and around the right hon. Gentleman’s constituency. I will happily meet him to discuss specific actions being taken that could also support his constituency.
This closure is devastating news for families across Wales, including those affected in my constituency and across the whole of south Wales, and for the supply chain businesses affected, as a huge number of people are involved in the supply chain. The Secretary of State is wholly wrong to rule out Brexit being a causal factor in this decision. The former First Minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones, said today that closure was “never on the agenda” during his very recent private discussions with Bridgend Ford. So can the Secretary of State please rule out a no-deal Brexit and the irresponsible message he is giving to every manufacturer across the industry, across the UK and across Wales today? Will he give that assurance to the car industry and to everyone?
The hon. Lady suggests I am wholly wrong to rule out Brexit as a cause, but those are not my views; they are the clear statements that have been made by Ford, both in private and in public. There would be much greater credibility in the statements being made by people seeking to make party political advantage out of this position, which is disappointing, if Ford was moving its operations to the European Union. Clearly, Ford is not doing that; it is moving the engine manufacture to Mexico, which clearly highlights that this is nothing to do with our exit from the EU. She asks me to rule out no deal, but in order to rule that out, you presumably need to vote for a deal, and I have done so on each and every occasion.
“We’ve been very consistent since the referendum that a hard Brexit, a no-deal Brexit, would be a disaster”.
So does the Secretary of State believe that loose talk about delivering no deal by leading Tory leadership contenders damages the UK car industry or assists it? Does he think that if the Chancellor has a Brexit war chest, it should be spent on investing in the UK car industry, including in electric vehicles, rather than on tax cuts for the wealthy, as some are advocating in their leadership campaigns?
Again, the right hon. Gentleman quotes what Ford has said, but Ford also said, “Please vote for the deal.” Perhaps he should answer the question of why he did not vote in favour of the deal.
My father, David Davies, was head of economic development at the Welsh Office in the ’70s and was instrumental in getting Ford to Bridgend, with the help of inducements from a Labour Government, including the rail link the Secretary of State mentioned and other financial inducements. The Secretary of State knows that wages in Wales are the lowest in the UK, at 70% of gross value added, and that the impact of Brexit is in big companies such as Airbus, Ford and Tata realising that they will no longer be in that market and relocating and reducing their workforce. Will he therefore think again about providing a people’s vote so that people can vote on whether they actually do want to leave, because people from that Bridgend plant who voted to leave did not vote to leave their jobs? Will he rule out any no-deal Brexit? Finally, will he make sure that none of the convergence funding that we currently get will be stripped away and given to other parts of the UK? If he will give none of those undertakings, will he resign?
The way in which the hon. Gentleman is pursuing the question suggests that this is a debate about Brexit, but Ford has said that it is not and is acting in a way that demonstrates that it is not. It is not about judging Ford’s statements; it is about judging its proposals and the actions it plans to take arising from this issue. He is right in that the manufacturing sector, in particular, wishes to seek some certainty, and that is what we are seeking to bring about, but by voting against the deal on three separate occasions, the uncertainty over the economy has obviously been created.
Coming on the back of the similar announcement by Honda, this announcement by Ford will have a devastating impact on its workers and on the supply chain right across south Wales, including in my constituency. We absolutely need a co-ordinated response with the Welsh Government, local government and others, but may I ask the Secretary of State what immediate priority he will give in the coming days to ensuring that those in the company—the workers and the trade unions—are afforded all the support they need?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising an important question, which absolutely will affect the employees in his constituency who work at the site. I have mentioned that the taskforce being established will have an industry leader, and Ken Skates and I will be the joint vice-chairs of that group. We will, of course, work closely with the UK Government Departments, the Welsh Government and the unions. I should also pay the greatest respect to the Welsh Automotive Forum for the work it has done in helping us to map the supply chains, many of which will be across not only Wales, but the rest of the UK. Over the coming days, we expect to be able to announce the chair of the taskforce. We have agreed that we want the taskforce to meet as quickly as possible and frequently, certainly in the early stages, and that we want to set up a number of working groups to tackle the individual issues that the taskforce will highlight, be it people, place or the potential for investment on that site.
The workers at Vauxhall in Ellesmere Port send their solidarity to those in Bridgend who have lost their jobs and to those who are going to lose their jobs in the wider supply chain. As my right hon. Friend Frank Field said, we are concerned about what is happening to the car industry in this country. It seems to be disintegrating before our eyes and the Government appear to be powerless to stop it. I know that the Secretary of State has mentioned various aspects of the industrial strategy that we hope are going to reverse some of these damaging job losses, but self-evidently this is not enough. Please may we have more action, on business rates, on energy costs and on actually encouraging investment in the first place, because once these jobs go, they are gone forever?
First, let me say that Vauxhall is investing in Britain, and that should give the hon. Gentleman confidence as to the approach and attitude that Vauxhall is showing towards the UK economy. However, he is right to highlight the need for further investment. For the last full year for which data is available, business investment in automotive was £5.3 billion, which is a 20% uplift on the previous year. Clearly, these things will vary from tranche to tranche, so we need to be looking at the trend, rather than just seeking to overstate the figures in order to be selective. This is a positive environment, and automotive research and development amounts to 15% of total UK R&D, which highlights the importance that the private sector and the UK Government place on the automotive sector, so that we can provide the next generation of automotive vehicles.