“The Ford Motor Company has behaved shabbily” says John

Yesterday John spoke in Westminster Hall, with other local MPs, on the closure of the Ford factory in Swaythling.  During the debate, John criticised Ford’s behaviour.  He also said:

“Reputations are hard won and easily lost. I believe that it will be a long time before any Government of any colour in this country will sit down with Ford without wondering whether the people on the other side of the table are telling the truth. It saddens me to say that, but that is where we are today.”

You can watch John speaking in Parliament on Fords by clicking here.

Mr John Denham (Southampton, Itchen) (Lab):I will work within the time you have allocated, Sir Roger. I congratulate the hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) on securing the debate.

The Ford Motor Company has behaved shabbily. I have worked with the company over many years, sometimes with good news and sometimes, more recently, with bad news, but the relationship has always been one of openness, transparency and willingness to engage. None of those characteristics have been present in this decision.

I should read into the record a letter I received from John Fleming, then European head of Ford, in February 2009:

“Dear John,

Thank you for making the time for our discussion earlier this week”.

Having set out some of the economic challenges, he continued:

“In November last year I offered my assurances to yourself, Lord Mandelson and to your constituency colleagues in Southampton would receive the necessary investment to manufacture the Chassis Cab version of the next generation Transit. After extensive studies, which were shared with our union colleagues, this was the only investment option that met both the cost and profitability requirements demanded of the business.

I remain committed to the future of Southampton and, as I have stated in my recent letter to all Ford of Britain employees, I can re-confirm that it is our plan to build the next generation Transit Chassis Cab there. The sourcing and Chassis Cabs to Southampton gives the plant a meaningful and profitable manufacturing future and I trust you will continue to share my view that this is a positive development for the plant.”

That is the last official communication that I ever had from Ford about the future of Southampton; at no stage since has there been any indication of doubts about that strategy. It is true that its implementation was delayed because of the investment required to move to the chassis cabs, but the latest that that was to happen was next summer—indeed, the unions at Ford had been discussing with the management how the summer closedown would be handled to enable that shift to take place—but then the decision was announced.

Last spring, with my hon. Friends the Members for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) and for Dagenham and Rainham (Jon Cruddas), I was at a dinner of what could be called Ford’s Labour MPs, where the discussion was not about closure, but about the possibility of winning extra orders. The irony of ironies is that, at that dinner, Ford asked us to lobby the European Union about a trade deal with other countries that was going to be harmful to manufacturing in Europe. Given the outcome of Ford’s decision, that seems extraordinary.

Reputations are hard won and easily lost. I believe that it will be a long time before any Government of any colour in this country will sit down with Ford without wondering whether the people on the other side of the table are telling the truth. It saddens me to say that, but that is where we are today. A parliamentary reply I received on Friday revealed 12 meetings since the last election between Ford and Ministers in the current Government. We cannot fault Ministers for their willingness to meet with the Ford Motor Company over that time. I believe Ministers when they tell us that Ford did not let them in on the plans or share them, which is bad conduct by the company.

I have two or three things to say quickly, because I do not have much time. It is extraordinary that a regional growth fund grant was made to Ford without the Government being aware of the wider Ford strategy. I simply say that that is a weakness of the regional growth fund compared with the old regional development agency structures, which were much more likely to ensure that the bits of government dealing with majorcompanies were aware of the whole of the company strategy. By dividing the regional growth fund into separate grants, there is no sense of engagement with the company.

Similar issues apply to the European Investment Bank. I am grateful to the office of Peter Skinner, MEP, for this information. Yesterday the EIB was claiming that the loan was fine because Turkey is “upstream” of the UK and is an assembly site, not a component manufacturer. Well, Southampton is an assembly site and not a component manufacturer. Those involved in the EIB decision have questions to answer. The Chancellor is a governor of the EIB; Britain was represented by an official, Peter Curwen; and there would also have been an opinion from the European Commission about the loan. We need to know whether the Commission, the EIB and the UK representatives were aware of the situation in Southampton and the likely implication of the loan for the future of that site.

The truth is that it is impossible for Governments to dictate to transnational companies what they do. They can influence to some extent what such companies do, but only if every sinew is strained to ensure that they have the maximum influence on the company.

I had hoped to speak for longer, but let me now turn to the existing work force. As the hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North said, Ford’s commitment must go way beyond those directly employed by the company. There are more than 200 non-Ford employees on the site; they are not working in logistics or making the seats for the Transits, and they are not covered by the redundancy terms now on offer. Ford must extend its support to far more people.

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