Hundreds of jobs have been protected after Ford took back ownership of a Merseyside plant in what’s been described as a "huge show of confidence" in the UK automotive industry.
The iconic Ford sign is back up in Halewood after the deal for the transmission plant was completed on Monday, with the car manufacturing giant taking over the remaining 50% of the site.
The factory, which makes transmission systems for Ford vehicles, was previously run in collaboration with German firm Getrag, but bosses say today’s news ends years of uncertainty for workers.
Andy Roche, plant manager, called it a "historic moment", with the entire Halewood site originally run by Ford in the years before it became known as Jaguar Land Rover's HQ.
He said: "It's a real testament to the work of the management along with the trade unions in Halewood that they've done over the last 20 years, including the new work and practices they accepted to get the plant to the condition it is in now. It really is at the top of its game both in terms of cost, quality and delivery.
"I think it's just great for the region as well as for Liverpool - as you drive into the city now along the A562, the first thing you're going to see is a Ford sign on top of our building.
"You have a blue chip company putting their confidence into the workforce here and investing in the area, which for us is magnificent."
It was Ford who, during the 1960s, opened its car production plant in Halewood, bringing jobs and prosperity to the area. It enjoyed great success, with the Ford Escort, Orion and Capri assembled onsite later that decade.
But it was announced in 1997 that the European production of the Ford Focus, designed to replace the Escort, would be carried out in Germany and Spain and four years later in 2001, Jaguar Cars, then owned by Ford, announced that the Jaguar X-Type would be produced in Halewood from then on.
By 2008, Ford had sold Jaguar and Land Rover to Tata Motors, part of the India-based Tata Group, for £1.05bn and the two were eventually merged into a single company.
Under the terms of the deal, Ford retained ownership of the transmission plant, which it operated in collaboration with Getrag - now known as Magna PT - on a 50/50 basis.
Today’s news means all employees at the site - over 700 - will now come under the Ford umbrella. Mr Roche said it's a move that protects 600 people formerly employed by Getrag.
Mr Roche said: "We've been concerned over the last couple of years here - we haven't had any new projects or new products to work on.
"But we are convinced now with Ford coming into buy us that they've got plans for us. They took us for a purpose and will want to invest - they're not going to buy us to shut it down. We see this as a protection of jobs.
"So any new jobs that they create, they will be Ford employees, which is fantastic.
"It's fantastic to be associated with a world renowned company."
The plant will be one of just two Ford manufacturing facilities left in the UK - the other being in Dagenham.
Kevin Pearson, the union convenor at Ford in Halewood described it as "great news" - a show of confidence in the workforce and down to the site’s “success and efficiency”. Mr Roche also said the news was a show of faith in the UK’s car industry amid “doom and gloom” that has seen the future of the Vauxhall plant in Ellesmere Port put at risk . He has worked at the plant since 1979, and said: “This is 42 years for me now, and I've seen the industry go through many changes.
"In the main, they've been positive but lately with all the fear around Brexit and everything else that we've been going through, and then the push more towards electric vehicles which all governments seem to be pushing for, has obviously been a cause of concern in the automotive industry, particularly around Merseyside.
"Then there’s the potential bad news [coming from Vauxhall]. So for Ford to come in and invest in us and want to take us back under their umbrella and complete ownership is great for the workforce."
Source: Tom Houghton, North West Business Editor, business-live.co.uk