Blair's sympathy for axed Shell workers

PRIME Minister Tony Blair has voiced his sympathy for north Suffolk workers made redundant in a shock move by energy giant Shell. More than 200 jobs are to go in Lowestoft following Shell UK's decision to close its operations in the town.

By David Lennard

PRIME Minister Tony Blair has voiced his sympathy for north Suffolk workers made redundant in a shock move by energy giant Shell.

More than 200 jobs are to go in Lowestoft following Shell UK's decision to close its operations in the town.

Waveney MP Bob Blizzard told Tony Blair in the Commons yesterday that it was a "devastating" blow.


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He called for all Government agencies to do "everything they possibly can to mitigate this disaster and help those lose their jobs."

Mr Blair voiced his sympathy for those affected. He added : "I am sure that Job Centre Plus and the other agencies will work to ensure that the Rapid Response Service that we put in place now where there are large scale redundancies will work with his (Mr Blizzard's) constituents and their families to make sure they are either redeployed within the company or found jobs elsewhere."

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Shell is a major employer in the town and there are fears its decision to close the regional headquarters will have a serious impact on the Waveney area that is already reeling from the dramatic decline of the fishing industry.

Workers at the Lowestoft depot were informed of the company decision yesterday.

In a brief statement Shell UK said that the creation of a new regional centre in Europe would lead to substantial job losses and the closure of its Lowestoft operation.

Although a final decision on the total number of jobs will be made later this year it is understood that 200 jobs will be cut in Lowestoft and a further 100 in other parts of the country.

Mr Blizzard described the announcement as a "devastating blow" for north Suffolk.

"Not only are there hundreds of jobs directly affected, but there will be an impact on many smaller supply chain businesses," he said.

The Labour MP said many staff would feel let down by the company.

"Local Shell staff have worked hard in recent years to reduce costs in a collaborative exercise with their Dutch counterparts.

"They and I have been repeatedly assured that this did not mean the closure of the Lowestoft base. They will feel terribly let down that their reward is now exactly that," said Mr Blizzard.

He admitted that it was unlikely that Shell would change their mind and said he would be calling for an "emergency summit" of the key public and private bodies involved in economic development in the Lowestoft area to look at the future of the town.

Mr Blizzard said each organisation would be asked to contribute to helping the community "survive this blow" and to find some way forward.

The leaders of Suffolk County Council and Waveney District Council, Jane Hore and Brian Hunter, also issued a joint statement expressing their sadness at the job cuts describing it as a "severe blow" to Lowestoft.

"Everyone will know someone who will be touched by this decision. We will work together with Shell to ensure the interests of staff, suppliers and the whole community are protected," said the statement.

The two council leaders also promised to discuss the situation as a matter of urgency with Shell, the Employment Service and the East of England Development Agency.

"We understand that this is an international decision taken by Shell in view of changes in the industry.

"The company have had a long successful association with Lowestoft and this will have made it a painful decision," said the statement.

Mark Robinson, regional organiser of the AMICUS union deplored Shell's decision as he said the southern North Sea was still an extremely profitable operation for the company.

"We will be seeking urgent meetings with the company and will want to ensure that such large scale job losses do not have any safety implications for those still working on and off shore," he said.

Shell UK employs both onshore and offshore workers in the Lowestoft area and has been established in the north Suffolk port for nearly 40 years.

It operates a number of gas platforms off the East Anglian coast where gas is brought ashore at the Bacton terminal in Norfolk.

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