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The Leader of Bridgend County Borough Council has spoken at the House of Commons about the likely impact that closing the Ford Engine Plant will have on the area.

Cllr Huw David has told the Welsh Affairs Parliamentary Select Committee that 'urgent investment and rapid action' will be vital in order to protect the county borough's communities and local economy.

Cllr David said: "The Ford engine plant has generated £1.3 billion for the Welsh economy. It is an anchor company not just for Wales, but for the UK, and we simply cannot afford to lose our biggest private-sector employer.

"That's 1,700 jobs, and there is no way we can replace them in just over a year. So we would say to Ford, reconsider your decision - do not abandon Bridgend, do not abandon Wales. If Ford want to stay, then Welsh Government and UK Government will support Ford.

"These are some of the most highly-skilled workers in Wales, and the production lines here are the most productive in the world. They can build the cars of the future.

"The UK is one of your best customers. The British public buy millions of Ford cars, so repay the commitment that the people of South Wales have made to Ford for the last 40 years. They have the best workforce in the world here - if electric vehicles are the future, build them in Bridgend.

"If Ford will not reconsider its decision, they will have to think very seriously about what they are going to do to support the workers and communities. When those skills and those workers are gone, they are gone for good.

"I hope that we will have real engagement with Ford, and that they sit down and talk seriously about the possibility of still having a future on that site, even if it is on a much smaller footprint.

"You can contrast this with Sony, which is also located in the county borough of Bridgend. Sony used to employ well over 1500 people, but experienced significant structural changes in the consumer electronic market.

"Sony did not walk away from Bridgend - they downsized significantly, but as a responsible employer, they stayed in Bridgend and are now actually thriving and growing.

"They are focusing on high-end, cutting edge technologies because they recognise how skilled and how qualified the workforce are in Bridgend.

"Sony have stayed with us, and I want Ford to stick with Bridgend, too. Don't turn your back on the people of Wales."

Cllr David also appraised the select committee on how Bridgend County Borough Council is working with partners to respond to the proposed closure, and suggested ways in which support could be forthcoming.

He said: "Given the unprecedented scale of the loss of jobs, an unprecedented response is needed from both UK Government and Welsh Government.

"I welcome the fact that a taskforce has been set up, but as we will lose £130m a year in direct value from the local economy and £250m a year in indirect value, we need urgent investment. We need rapid action.

"There are a number of infrastructure projects that could be brought forward to give some confidence to businesses, communities, families and residents who are all very concerned about the future, and I have shared these with both UK Government and Welsh Government.

"As we have a shortage of space for smaller and medium-sized businesses, my council already has a project in place to rapidly increase the number of available units. We need to at least double this because many of those workers who will may be made redundant may decide to start up their own business.

"We can't be in the position of having to tell them that there is nowhere to set up their own business in Bridgend. So we want to bring some of that forward, we want to scale it up and also improve the connectivity of the county borough by investing in enhanced rail frequency and road transport links. "

Speaking after the meeting, Cllr David explained how the council has responded to the planned closure of the plant.

He said: "We have re-launched our Special Regeneration Fund designed to help local companies find ways of diversifying and investing in order to take advantage of new business opportunities, while we have extended our Kick Start fund that creates fresh jobs and support new businesses within their first three years of trading by helping them invest in equipment and other capital start-up costs.

"Bridgend County Borough remains an excellent place to invest and do business in. Situated mid-way between Cardiff and Swansea, we have a highly skilled local workforce on hand and benefit from excellent communication links with easy access to three junctions of the M4, the Swansea-to-London high-speed rail network and Cardiff International Airport.

"Skilled council officers can deliver a range of funding and start-up support, and the Bridgend Business Forum offers strong networking opportunities.

"As a council, we are devastated for everyone affected by this decision, and we urge Ford to reconsider and to work with both Welsh Government and the UK Government to keep the engine plant open."

To find out more about doing business in Bridgend County Borough, visit the business zone pages at www.bridgend.gov.uk<http://www.bridgend.gov.uk>

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