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Wednesday, 20 February, 2002, 08:08 GMT
'Doors open' as Ford line shuts
Ford Dagenham production line
Ford Fiesta production finally ends on 20 February

By BBC News Online's Robert Fielding

The creation of a multi-million pound centre for engineering excellence is at the forefront of plans to soften the economic impact of the end of car production at Ford's Dagenham plant.

Billed as the UK's first "seamless" university, the centre - paid for through a partnership between Ford and the public sector - will provide apprenticeships, post-graduate research, and business management.

Jeremy Grint, head of regeneration at the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham Council, told BBC News Online: "As one door closes, another opens.

"Because Ford relocated just as the 1920s Beckontree Housing Estate went up, there is a strong symbolic association.

Closing the assembly line will not create a disaster, another major decision could

Fiona Jones, Essex Economic Partnership
"But there is considerable reinvestment, the potential for work with higher skills, and hopefully higher wages as a result."

In Essex, jobs in engineering account for an estimated 24.4% of employment, and those charged with regenerating the sector hope this could still be the case in 2006.

Fiona Jones from the Essex Economic Partnership said: "While simply closing the assembly line will not create a disaster, another major decision could.

Decisions abroad

"So firms need to diversify now rather than waiting for the next shock - it is a case of recognising that we still have lots to do.

"This is a regional issue - in Luton, Vauxhall have scaled down, and there are companies in the Ford supply chain based in the south of the county which were making parts for both Vauxhall and for Ford.

"We recognise that it is about working with the smaller companies, to encourage them to diversify.

"We all know that decisions which are taken in the US or Germany can affect things here in Essex."

Regeneration plan

Times have changed since the first vehicle to be built at Dagenham, a model AA truck, left the production line on 1 October 1931.

By February this year, 10,980,368 vehicles had been created at the site.

About 25m is being spent on the centre for excellence and 6m on other local learning centres, which are just a part of the overall regeneration plan for engineering in the South East.

Mr Grint said: "Ford have played a huge part in providing jobs for local people in the past."

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See also:

13 Jul 01 | Business
Ford reveals Dagenham engine plans
12 May 00 | Business
Ford jobs blow for Dagenham
12 May 00 | UK Politics
Ten-point plan for Dagenham
11 May 00 | UK
Dagenham: End of the line
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