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Ford Bridgend – What role for economic resilience?

June 6th 2019

With the news of the closure of Ford Bridgend, Helen Cunningham reflects on the impact of job losses for local economies and asks if building economic resilience could play a role.

The news of Ford’s decision to close its Bridgend plant is devastating. For the 1,700 people employed at Ford, as well as their families, local businesses, suppliers and communities that have come to rely on the plant, it spells nothing short of disaster.

Unfortunately, today’s announcement is yet another in a series of closure or downsizing announcements that have plagued Wales. Although not on the huge scale of job losses at Ford, this year has seen announcements of job losses at Honeywell in St Asaph, Calsonic Kanse in Llanelli, Hoover Candy in Merthyr, Bridgend based medical technology manufacturer Cellnovo and energy supplier SSE. Taking the long view, you can take your pick of closures and mass redundancies; Avana Bakeries, Sony, Ebbw Vale Steelworks. The list goes on.

One Bridgend business interviewed today about the closure told the interviewer that he saw the local economy as already fragile. So the loss of the Ford plant is a blow that it simply can’t afford to take. This fragility lies at the core of why such closures hit so hard.

While there may have been signs that changes at Ford were in the offing, when there is limited scope to resist a closure, re-orientate the local economy and recover quickly from such a shock, the impact can be deep and lasting. As we know only too well in Wales, industries come and go, they rise and fall. When they do, it is often the workers and suppliers who feel the effects most and no amount of rationalising about of the changing nature of their industry helps someone who is now out of a job.  It does bring into focus though how resilient our economies are and how adaptable they can be when change comes, as it inevitably does, to recover and recast themselves.

Large scale closures will always have an enormous impact and there are limits to what can be done when the decision is taken by a multinational firm. But is there more we can do in future to mitigate the effects, reduce our risk to such shocks in the first place and plan economic interventions that stand the test of time? This is one of the reasons we think exploring how to build economic resilience is so important. If we are to avoid or at least mitigate the recurring cycle of despair that comes with news of mass job losses, we need a new, different approach to how we organise and structure our local economies. The fate of future workers, businesses and communities depends upon it.

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