Coronavirus: Bridgend Ford return to work marks 40 years – BBC News

The Ford Escort

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The brand new Ford Escort on the M4 close to Bridgend in 1980

Ford’s engine plant in Bridgend is restarting manufacturing after an almost two-month shutdown as a result of coronavirus pandemic.

Its 1,200 sturdy workforce has been on furlough since 25 March however this ultimate return to work – with the manufacturing unit as a result of shut for good in September – additionally marks its 40th anniversary.

When the plant opened in Could 1980, it was seen as an industrial landmark through which the automobile was overtaking coal in Wales.

There have been nonetheless 30,000 working in mining, however 700 jobs on the Lewis Merthyr colliery within the Rhondda had been below risk. It’s now a museum.

There have been already about 30 automobile part firms in south Wales when Bridgend – thanks partly to the non-public intervention of then-Prime Minister James Callaghan – gained the prize.

The Ford announcement in 1978 was described within the South Wales Echo as “the icing on an already substantial cake” for the automotive sector.

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Media captionThe story behind how the Ford engine plant in Bridgend was constructed between 1977 and 1980

The CBI on the time estimated 25,000 had been employed within the automobile trade in Wales, with a turnover of £350m.

Borg-Warner, which made automated transmissions at Kenfig close to Bridgend, had already opened Wales’ first 1m sq ft manufacturing unit, with jobs for greater than 1,200 individuals. Most of its merchandise went to Volvo in Sweden.

There have been others too, supplying British Leyland – which had two of its personal corporations in Cardiff and Llanelli, making gearboxes and radiators.

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Though Ford was in Mid Glamorgan, it didn’t cease neighbouring South Glamorgan selling itself as a location for enterprise by a future first minster, Rhodri Morgan

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The 500,000th engine got here off the manufacturing line in December 1981

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Miss UK Michelle Donnelly is particular visitor on the plant in 1981, assembly John Owen, the primary employee to be taken on in 1980

The manufacturing unit opened in 1980 with out fanfare at an economically unsure time. There was a two-week lengthy strike at native newspapers, so the occasion handed with out remark or file.

Inside a couple of weeks of the Bridgend plant opening, Ford introduced only one,400, not 2,500 individuals, could be employed there due to a droop in automobile gross sales.

British Leyland was additionally struggling, with £122m losses introduced. Unemployment was greater than double 2020’s pre-coronavirus determine and inflation was working at practically 18%.

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Tim Graham/Getty Pictures

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Princess Diana pictured driving one of many information Ford Escorts in 1981

The brand new vary of Ford Escorts – with Bridgend producing 2,000 engines every week for them – had been in automobile showrooms by the top of September 1980.

Motorists paid £3,374 for the fundamental mannequin and Princess Diana was photographed driving one a 12 months later – by the top of the last decade, it could arguably be the UK’s hottest automobile with greater than 1.6 million fashions on the roads.

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Staff voting to return to work after a primary strike in December 1981

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Prince Philip takes a tour across the plant in 1986

In addition to modifications in demand for vehicles and the drive for efficiencies – the previous decade has seen Bridgend making engines for Ford vehicles made elsewhere in Europe however not within the UK.

The writing was on the wall when funding in a brand new petrol engine, known as Dragon, was scaled again, as manufacturing was as a result of finish for the engine Bridgend made for Jaguar Land Rover.

Ford blamed “altering buyer demand and value disadvantages” for the choice to shut.

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Media captionStaff react to information that Ford’s engine plant will shut in 2020

At present, solely a couple of quarter of the 30 firms within the automotive sector round Ford 40 years in the past nonetheless exist however have been changed by others – there at the moment are greater than 70 parts suppliers alongside the M4 hall and valleys alone.

The numbers working in it have shrunk – however the automotive sector continues to be estimated at using about 18,000 staff throughout Wales.

Ford Bridgend is re-opening quietly once more on its 40th anniversary for what’s destined to be a really brief interval. But in addition at an unsure – and extraordinary – time for the entire trade.

News Reporter

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