THE Cummins diesel engine plant in Shotts is to close with the loss of 700 highly skilled engineering jobs.

The American owners will confirm later today that the work, building a range of engines for trucks, buses and rail cars, is being transferred to sister plants in England.

The closure of Cummins, 13 months after Rolls-Royce decided to shut its aero engine design unit at East Kilbride with the loss of 650 skilled jobs, is a particularly grievous body blow to this vulnerable corner of north Lanarkshire. Around 85% of the workforce live within a five-mile radius of Shotts.

Last night, production was continuing as normal at the plant with nightshift workers apparently unaware of their fate.

However, former local MP Peggy Herbison, who was instrumental in bringing Cummins to a town suffering the early signs of run down in the pits, told The Herald: ``This would be a complete tragedy for Shotts. The company has been wonderful for this town, not just in providing jobs but in becoming part of our community.''

Scotland's export performance will also suffer from the closure. Some 60% of the Shotts-built engines, produced at rates of up to 60 a day, go overseas. Customers have included Korean construction equipment makers and Japanese and Dutch train companies.

That work will now be transferred to Cummins plants in England, at Daventry and Darlington. Shotts will be left with longer dole queues and more than 600,000sq ft of empty factory space.

The Lanarkshire Development Agency is left with another headache of Caterpillar proportions, but this time with all its enterprise zone sites already designated elsewhere.

Confirmation that Scotland is to bear the brunt of a review of Cummins operations worldwide will come the day after ground was broken for the Chunghwa Picture Tube factory on one of those enterprise zone sites, at Mossend, where Taiwanese investors are projecting more than 3000 new jobs.

But the jobs disappearing at Cummins and Rolls-Royce are of a different order of skill and much more highly paid than most of those on offer from Chunghwa. Every step forward in the Lanarkshire economy, it seems, is followed by a painful retreat.

As The Herald first reported last Friday, the Shotts plant was certain to suffer some job losses in the Indiana-based company's efforts to improve group profitability.

Mr Dave Crosbie, head of human resources at the Scottish plant, said then: ``At best we will be facing some job losses and the worst scenario could be the plant's closure.''

Cummins announced last October that it was reviewing its operations, spread over some 35 plants worldwide. A letter to workers set targets of 2000 job losses through a combination of natural wastage, redundancy, and plant closure to secure the company's future.

The American multinational - which prides itself on the dictum: People make the difference - now has to tell 700 loyal workers, who have delivered significant productivity improvements in recent years, that they no longer make that difference.

The Cummins link with Shotts goes back four decades. Back in 1956 Scotland was the Cummins Engine Company's first overseas investment.

Cummins started off in a converted spinning mill, known as the Wren's Nest. Many of its first employees were local ex-miners. In the early 1980s operations were moved to a custom-built factory which, at peak, employed 1500 people.

Less than two years have passed since the people of Shotts were literally dancing in the streets to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the formation, in the United States, of Cummins.

Employees and their families were not simply marking a date, but recognising that an aggressive attack on all the company's problems was beginning to pay off for the Scottish plant.

As more than 3000 people took part in the anniversary party, the problems seemed to be over. Production of engines at Shotts, which had slumped to 20 units a day in the depths of the recession, had more than doubled with a motivated workforce which had been pruned by a third.

Cummins was formed in Columbus, Indiana by Clessie Cummins, a chauffeur who, in 1913, started a machine works in the garage of his employers. In 1919 he manufactured his first diesel engine running on kerosene, 37 years later the company crossed the Atlantic opening its first non-US plant in Shotts and forging the Scottish link.

The irony of the Shotts decision is that while suffering in the recession, the plant had seemed to do all the right things. From a one-engine product the range of engines had been increased dramatically and the company had forced its way into new markets.

Scottish-built engines are now sold all over the world, including Japan and Korea. One of its success stories has been in powering the new breed of diesel trains.

The company said two years ago its turnaround was based on an investment in its workforce.

That workforce is left wondering how it all ended so quickly. Workers arriving for the late shift last night could shed little light on the decision.

``Nobody has been told anything,'' said one worker. ``There has been a lot of scaremongering, but that's all it is.

Around 100 employees were on the late shift but most were reluctant to discuss the plant's future because they did not know what the company's plans were.

``We were all sent letters around October saying a review was under way and that was the last we heard,'' said another employee who asked not to be named.

No-one was available from management for comment.

Chunghwa landing - Page 18