Business Secretary Greg Clark has promised to contact bosses of Britvic and Unilever, who are considering leaving their Norwich factory and moving over 350 jobs out of the city.
Britvic, manufacturers of Robinson’s Squash and Fruit Shoot, were first to announce plans to depart the city at the beginning of October with Unilever, who make the iconic Norfolk brand Colman’s Mustard, soon announcing a consultation over their future operations in the shared factory.
The New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), a voluntary body organised by government formed of local authorities and businesses hosted a meeting where Mr Clark sat down with workers and bosses from the site, local MPs Clive Lewis (Norwich South) and Chloe Smith (Norwich North) plus representatives from Norwich City and Norfolk County Council.
The LEP’s chairman Doug Field reflected: “The Secretary of State was very aware of the importance and heritage of these companies to Norwich and the wider area. He has agreed to support our efforts in trying to maintain production in the local area and to support staff in this uncertain time.
“We will continue to talk to both companies ahead of the end of their consultation exercises and work with all our partners to support the interests of workers and of our economy.”
The Eastern Daily Press reported that three possible options to keep production of Colman’s Mustard in Norwich were presented at the meeting. They are either for Unilever to remain at the Bracondale site, move to the Norwich Airport Industrial Estate or relocate to a site at Honingham Thorpe, eight miles north-west of the current factory.
Consultations by Britvic and Unilever are still ongoing, with the Business Secretary having pledged to ensure the processes are fair. If plans go ahead, Britvic’s first redundancy notices could be served as early as next summer.
Britvic’s consultation has come under particular scrutiny following investment in its other UK plants, with unions Unite and GMB writing to the firm’s independent directors calling on them to look into the process.
GMB regional organiser Ivan Mercer commented: “There is a strong feeling that this process is being rushed, and that there has not been any meaningful consultation with the workforce or their Consultative Group.
“[Britvic] have admitted to withholding from the Consultative Group a key report into the site operations.
They have also taken more than four weeks just to share critical financial information with the Consultative Group.
“Members at the factory are concerned that there are a number of conflicting answers to simple questions.”
Since the plans were announced in October, there have been a variety of campaigns aimed at keeping the 350 Britvic and Unilever jobs in Norwich. MPs Ms Smith and Mr Lewis have visited the factory and attended various meetings with workers and management.
In Parliament on the 20 November, Shadow Minister Bill Esterson asked DEFRA minister George Eustice about the potential job losses in Norwich and his discussions with Britvic and Mr Clark.
Mr Eustice replied: “Britvic is in the process of consulting on the proposals with elected employee representatives and, therefore, it would be inappropriate for the Government to comment at this time.
“We know that this is an uncertain time for Britvic workers affected by the news and we will be working with the company to ensure that employees receive appropriate support.”
The EDP’s petition calling on Britvic and Unilever to maintain production in the city has now passed 11,000 signatures.
The possibility of retaining at least Unilever’s local jobs provides a glimmer of hope after a tough few weeks for industry in the county which have seen plans for over 200 redundancies of BAE Systems employees at RAF Marham and almost 600 staff members of the Construction Industry Training Board, who have announced an intention to move their head office from Bircham Newton to Peterborough.