Re: UK:Blair to voice concerns about Jaguar closure
Blair intervenes over Ford’s UK jobs cut
By Christopher Adams and James Mackintosh in London
UK prime minister Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, chancellor of the exchequer, have personally intervened in the dispute between Ford and trade unions over plans to close the Jaguar car plant in Coventry, saying the carmaker should agree to further talks and listen to alternative union proposals.
After private talks with workers, MPs and the leaders of the three unions involved, the prime minister and chancellor took the unusual step yesterday of criticising Ford's handling of the decision to switch production to a different plant in Birmingham. Both will voice their concern to Ford bosses.
Their intervention marks a serious attempt to confront a big international employer over workforce relations and pressurise it into consulting properly with employees. There are also fears in Downing Street and the Treasury about the impact on the area, where unions said 1,150 jobs could be lost.
The move follows emphasis from Mr Brown on safeguarding Britain's manufacturing base in his speech to the Labour conference, during a week that has been notable for its improving relations between the leadership and unions.
Eight workers from Jaguar's Browns Lane plant met the prime minister and chancellor in Brighton, along with three MPs including Geoffrey Robinson, former paymaster general.
A joint statement from the unions - Amicus, the TGWU and the GMB - said Mr Blair and Mr Brown “recognised that the announcement was a heavy blow for the workforce and the local community.”
It added: “They called upon the company to have further discussions with the workforce and community representatives, including giving the trade unions the opportunity to present alternative plans.”
Bob Ainsworth, Labour MP for Coventry North East, said that the company had refused to discuss the move or even say how much money it might save by closing the Browns Lane site.
Whitehall officials and ministers confirmed there was concern in government that there had been inadequate discussion that the plans appeared to be in breach of a previous agreement that the position of Jaguar sites in the West Midlands was secure. Patricia Hewitt, trade and industry secretary, has written to Ford urging it to “engage fully” with the unions.
Ford said it was “available and willing to meet at any time”, but that, since the announcement, trade unions had not taken up its offer. “In developing our plan for Jaguar's future we researched thoroughly every possible alternative and the proposals announced represent our best endeavour for a viable Jaguar business,” it said. “We have always been willing to sit down with the unions to discuss the way forward.”
But the company has made clear that it is not willing to reconsider its decision, and it is understood that more than 400 workers have applied for the 400 voluntary redundancies at the plant. There was no prospect of changing the decision, insiders said.
Last week, Mark Fields, head of Ford's European operations, said that even strike action would not change their minds on ending production in Coventry. He said: “We have been more than generous.”
Neither Mr Brown nor Mr Blair intervened four years ago, when Ford closed its Dagenham car factory with the loss of 1,500 jobs and Vauxhall shut its Luton car plant with the loss of 1,900 jobs.
My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.
My next Ford.....