The proposed closure of the Ford Bridgend plant in 2020 with the resultant loss of 1700 jobs was discussed as an urgent item at the meeting of the Cardiff Capital Region Regional Cabinet on Monday.
Describing the announcement by Ford last Thursday as a ‘significant economic blow to the whole region’, the ten local authority leaders discussed the importance of the £1.3bn City Deal which it oversees and its relevance to building a new economic future.
Chair of the Regional Cabinet and Leader of Rhondda Cynon Taf Council, where it is thought almost 400 of the plant’s workers live, Councillor Andrew Morgan called on the Welsh Government to engage City Deal leaders in real-time and meaningful discussions about the way forward.
Strong views were expressed around the region’s economy being at a turning point and the need for urgent and targeted investment in transitioning from so-called ‘sunset’ to ‘sunrise’ economies. Vice Chair and Leader of Monmouthshire Council, Peter Fox, alluded to the work of City Deal in investing in and supporting the compound semi-conductor cluster.
Cllr Fox said: “The CS Cluster is actively securing projects which are putting power electronics at the heart of low emission and electric vehicle development, here in the region’. He added ‘With segments of the automotive sector still actively developing in the region and a strong research base, there’s a real opportunity to join forces across programmes, projects and all layers of government to embed the entire electric vehicles supply chain and drive value added in places like Bridgend which need to see urgent impact.”
Huw Thomas, Leader of Cardiff Council and co-Vice Chair of the cabinet called for the City Deal office to be at the forefront of work examining the resilience of key sectors in the region; assessing the opportunities for a renewed focus on growing industries of the future.
Cllr Thomas stated: “There is an inevitable push towards clean growth, electrification and cleaner production methods.
“This is reflected in our Industrial Growth Plan and in the Investment Framework we have approved today to move things forward. We can either stand back and feel the domino effect or take action now to show how the region can support the global manufacturing transition.”
In response to news of establishment of an expert taskforce convened by Welsh Government to inform next steps on Ford, Cllr Morgan said: “We will not be passive stakeholders in these conversations and want assurances from Welsh Government that we will be part of discussions – quickly.
“There is a real opportunity to develop the supply chains to embrace the shift to low emission, electric vehicles and innovative battery storage on the scale and timeframe required.
“This poses some big questions for Wales and UK Governments about how we secure the support of the automotive sector to do this. We need to leverage investments in power electronics and enabling technologies to accelerate the rate of progress. This means bringing together structural initiatives like City Deal, Tech Valleys and UK Government Industrial Strategy funds to advance these moves. Our door is open.”
Cllr Huw David, Leader of Bridgend Council thanked fellow leaders for “standing shoulder to shoulder with Bridgend and the affected workers during this difficult time.”