Ford Bridgend: the political problems

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Just as one crisis at a major employer appears to have come to an end - at Tata's Port Talbot works - another one opens up a few miles down the road.

An intriguing feature of the Ford Bridgend story is the claim in the leaked document (written by the company) about working practices which have reduced efficiency.

It says overtime levels are more than double the rates at Ford's other huge plant, Dagenham, which adds 6% to the cost of the engines produced.

It attributes this to absence, non-performance and work practices including paying staff allowances they are not entitled to.

Crucially, the document adds that finding future work for Bridgend will be subject to the improvements, which would appear to be a shot across the bows of the unions to play their part in making the plant more efficient.

Doorstep

Having covered countless Welsh factory closures, this runs counter to the usual narrative.

The normal claim is that Welsh plants are highly efficient but are the victims of global corporate forces and decisions made at HQs far away.

The document suggests that matters have been allowed to deteriorate over a significant period of time and the source of the problem is on its doorstep.

Unsurprisingly, this has not gone down well with the unions, and politically it throws up problems across the board.

For a plant of this size, it is the UK Government which has the financial muscle to potentially make the biggest difference.

Productivity

Theresa May will inevitably come under pressure to work as closely with Ford as she did with Nissan where a deal was struck after the Brexit result although the details are still a closely guarded secret.

If some kind of deal can be done in Sunderland, then why not Bridgend?

Although Carwyn Jones has said the company is not interested in a financial package, instead it is all about the productivity of the plant.

And for the Welsh Government itself, this is an embarrassing development to happen when the First Minister and Bridgend AM, Carwyn Jones, is in the US on a trade visit, and not going to the company's global HQ.

You would have thought a story like this would have been anticipated, particularly considering the close relationship between the main automotive union Unite and Welsh Labour.

Work practices

The Welsh Government also prides itself on its close working relationship with so-called anchor companies, and yet whenever potential dangers to the Ford workforce have been talked about it in recent months it is invariably in reference to Brexit.

This now appears misplaced when in fact the real problems for the bulk of the workforce are not related to future trade deals but the here and now of the order book and day-to-day productivity.

Carwyn Jones says he has known about problems at the plant for a number of months and blamed "work practices that have been allowed to grow by the management over the years".

He has even offered to act as a broker between the unions and the management. The prospect of the first minister taking on the role of ACAS tells you all you need to know about the state of the relations between the management and unions.

And of course there are questions for the Ford management.

The impression is that Ford has been forced to admit the true scale of the problem, in a leaked document, after claiming staffing levels would remain around the same in upcoming years.

Unite had repeatedly warned that production cutbacks after 2018 would make it impossible, and it appears to have been vindicated on that front least.

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