Despair as 400 jobs go at meat factory

ALMOST 400 staff at a Suffolk meat factory face redundancy today after bosses announced the site is to close.Grampian Country Pork's plant at Elmswell, near Bury St Edmunds, is to shut on June 14 following a consultation with its 380 staff.

ALMOST 400 staff at a Suffolk meat factory face redundancy today after bosses announced the site is to close.

Grampian Country Pork's plant at Elmswell, near Bury St Edmunds, is to shut on June 14 following a consultation with its 380 staff.

Officials from the company, which also runs a site in Little Wratting, near Haverhill, have blamed the “deeply regrettable” decision on increasing costs.

The move is the latest massive jobs blow to hit Suffolk.

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Television maker Sanyo has just announced up to 150 jobs would be lost at its Lowestoft factory - a bitter blow for the economy of the town, where more than 1,000 workers at Unilever and Rentokil Initial already face the axe.

Speaking last night, Neil Hammond, MD of Grampian's pork business, said the Elmswell closure plans had come following an “extensive review”.

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“As a result of continued manufacturing overcapacity within the pork sector combined with rising costs, which we have to date been unable to recoup, and our drive to improve the efficiencies within our business, we regrettably have had to make this announcement,” he said.

“We deeply regret this proposed closure and have informed our employees and their representatives of our commitment to consult with them.”

A spokesman for the company said the workers affected would be consulted on ways of avoiding redundancy, including securing alternative employment.

And he moved to reassure staff at the plant in Little Wratting, saying the announcement would have “no impact” on other sites, which all operate independently.

However, the news has been greeted with horror by both factory workers and MPs.

One worker, who did not want to be named, said the closure would have a devastating impact on many families - particularly those where there is more than one person employed at Grampian.

“The reaction was one of total shock. There are whole families working up there,” he said. “We were in a 30-day consultation period over the loss of 35 jobs, and today they came back and said the whole place was closing on June 14.”

David Ruffley, MP for Bury and the surrounding area, described the news as “awful” at a time when unemployment is rising.

He said: “If it turns out to be 380 jobs, then that's a huge dent in the local workforce and is bound to affect a very large number of families. They will be wondering what the jobs market is like at the moment and unfortunately unemployment is slightly up. This is not a good time.”

He added that fears the East Anglian pork industry was being brought to its knees by a flood of cheap and inferior imports were being realised, saying: “This is what I hear from farmers and producers right across Suffolk.

“I have a very large concentration of pig farms in my constituency - one of the largest nationally - and they make the point about very cheap meat being imported.

“A lot of our pork is coming from Spain which is a heck of a long way for it to travel - and it may contain far more preservatives and it will have been frozen as well.”

The MP called on big supermarkets and consumers alike to source meat from local producers, adding: “Their dozen sausages from Spain may be a few pence cheaper but the locally produced ones will be fresher, may well have fewer preservatives and will have cost far less in environmental terms.”

John Dugmore, chief executive of the Suffolk Chamber of Commerce, said it was hard to predict what overall affect the closure would have.

He said: “From the chamber's point of view this is a great loss, not only to Elmswell, but to the whole of Suffolk.

“The factory is very important to Elmswell in terms of employment, but it does slight Suffolk because at the moment it's an area that is on the up.

“But Grampian is a food manufacturing company and there are many other employers in that field so I am sure those people who lose their jobs will get back into employment quickly.

“It is a great loss to any region, although it is hard to say what overall effect it will have on the economy, which is currently booming.”

A spokesman for the T&G Union said last night: “We would want to make sure that any consultation with the trade unions over this closure is meaningful and that as part of the consultation the company make clear the reasons why they have taken this drastic step and indicate that they will, if appropriate, listen to alternative proposals.”

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