REACTION: 500 jobs to go at Suffolk Factory

Philips Avent in Glemsford. Picture: Phil Morley

Philips Avent in Glemsford. Picture: Phil Morley - Credit: Archant

The news that Philips Avent is shutting down its factory in Suffolk has been greeted by tears, surprise, and fears for the future.

Despite staff at the plant stating they had been told that Brexit was one of the reasons behind the decision, Neil Mesher, the chief executive of Philips UK and Ireland, told the East Anglian Daily Times that the decision to close the factory in Glemsford was part of a wider global strategy, and would have been made “regardless of Brexit”.

“The timing of the announcement is difficult, but regardless of the situation with Brexit, we would still be making this announcement,” he said.

“We have known we would be doing this since 2017. We are consolidating our operations, from 50 to 30 large sites, and the products made in Glemsford will be made in Holland and Indonesia in the future.”

Philips Avent employs 430 full time contracted employees at the Glemsford site, and many more are employed indirectly through an agency.

Leann Hofmann, 34, of Stoke Park Drive, Ipswich, who works as an operator for Phillips Avent said that the news, although sad, was not a shock. “I’d been expecting it to happen in two or three years, rather than as soon as next year,” she said. “We were told at 1.20pm today - a lot of people were crying.”

“Many of the workers at the plant have families to feed and it’s going to be really hard for them.

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“I am English speaker, so it won’t be so hard for me to find other work. But lots of other employees are worried because they can’t speak English very well, so they are worried about finding a new job.”

Philips Avent changed the employment agency that it uses earlier this month, from OSR Recruitment, who are based in Norwich, to Randstad Solutions Ltd, based in Luton, and the move resulted in many employees complaining they had lost holiday pay and other benefits.

Mr Mesher said that the “challenges” Philips Avent had with the contract with OSR had “nothing to do” with the decision to pull out of Glemsford. “Philips Avent has met all of our obligations with OSR,” he added.

But Philip Saunders, the director of OSR Recruitment, said that today’s news “would go a long way to explaining why Philips Avent and their exclusively appointed provider of labour Randstad Solutions have acted as they have towards us, and more importantly our former employees over recent months”.

“Perhaps now our former employees will be given the employment rights that they were entitled to under TUPE so as to ensure that - if this information is correct - they will not lose out on their redundancy payments,” he added.

Political Reaction

MP James Cartlidge said he was “extremely saddened and disappointed” to hear the news.

“My first thought is for all those working at the plant who will now have to go into consultation about their future, which must be a very unsettling experience. I intend to meet the CEO first thing Friday morning in Suffolk to discuss matters and learn more about their plans for the staff, and for the future. Of course, people will pick up on the Brexit issue. The company say that this is part of a global restructure but have clearly referred to ‘geopolitical’ factors in their statement. Last summer, the CEO of Philips global warned me in an conference call that the plant would be moved without a good Brexit deal.

“Whatever the precise impact, it’s impossible to overlook the fact that this announcement has come just after the Prime Minister’s pro-employment Brexit deal was voted down in the Commons. And whatever anyone says, it’s irrefutable that production is not moving from Holland to the UK, but vice versa’.”

“‘These job losses are not ‘project fear’. They are real. I will continue to do everything I can in Parliament to support finding a Brexit deal that respects the referendum result but seeks to do so in a sensible way, protecting our economy in the process. And of course, we should remember that thankfully overall unemployment remains at very low levels and there are plenty of vacancies.’

“I actually mentioned Philips Avent in my first ever speech as an MP, not least because I used their baby bottles to feed my twins. I am proud to have such a successful brand in my constituency, exporting all over the world, and a market leader in the US. Now that great brand will be leaving to the EU, and all those exports will go from Holland to the US, not from Suffolk. I am gutted and this strengthens my resolve to keep pressing for a sensible way forward that prioritises British industry. I don’t want to see our economic success stories moving away, I want new ones being created here and that will require the certainty for investment that will come from securing a stable way forward for our country.”

Jack Owen, Labour county and town councillor for Sudbury, said that when any industry moves away from the Sudbury area, it is a worry because it is very damaging to the local economy.

“For me, its shows the importance of the Delphi site [in Sudbury] and its workforce being retained. I’ve heard all the rumours about electrical car manufacturers, but that really needs to come to fruition.

“The homes at the Chilton Woods development aren’t too far away and my worry is that we won’t have the jobs in the area for the people living there.”

Stephen Plumb, district councillor and chairman of Glemsford Parish Council, said: “It’s very disappointing and devastating for the whole of the south Suffolk community.

“The company forged good links with the local community and I think people were hoping it would stay.

“Following on from the (news about the) Delphi closure, it leaves a lot of people around the Sudbury area looking for another job.

“How many other companies might follow suit if there is no Brexit settlement?”

Michael Holt, district councillor for Glemsford, said: “It’s very sad news, not just for Glemsford but for the whole area.

“I’m shocked to hear it, I had no inkling this was going to happen. It’s a devastating blow, which is going to hit the local community very hard.”