The recent announcement of the closure of the Northern Foods factory in Trafford Park in my constituency, with a loss of 700 jobs, is further evidence of the price pressures facing food manufacturing in the UK today.
This closure is a severe blow to employees and their families, many of whom have more than one family member working at Northern Foods. I met recently with stewards and learner representatives at the factory to see the production process and talk about the measures taken to support workers.
The union representatives are focusing on getting the best redundancy package available and ensuring practical help is on hand for people to find new jobs.
profit to loss
The final decision to close the plant has now been made despite a rescue plan from the unions. The site made a £4m profit two years ago but actually made a loss of £3m in 2005/6.
The plant can make 30-32,000 quiches a shift and 12.5 tonnes of sausage rolls.
The power of supermarkets - now under review by the Office of Fair Trading - means they can demand lower prices. Stewards tell me that the company’s main customer is paying the same prices for goods that they were paying three or four years ago. While this may be good for ordinary customers, manufacturers cannot sustain current downward pressure on prices without serious impact on jobs and pay.
Nonetheless, this closure will mean a reduction in capacity in the industry and production will no doubt shift elsewhere. If it goes abroad, products may be cheaper but the environmental costs of transportation should be taken into the equation.
The feeling from the factory floor is one of shock with workers feeling let down after all the hard work they have done, while recognising that Northern Foods has been a good employer.
The closure will have a big impact on families and the local community. The site is very family orientated with brothers and sisters, fathers and sons and mothers and daughters working together. These families now face a particularly difficult time.
I congratulated the stewards on the excellent work they have done to ensure that workers get the best possible redundancy package. They have negotiated very well and have got the best deal they can.
Apart from financial support, I was pleased to see that a really good ’job shop’ had been set up on-site, supported by Jobcentre Plus. The environment is positive, with staff on hand to offer advice. A local college is also delivering basic skills training and providing further advice and guidance.
This positive action will mean that people are able to develop their skills and move to other employment. In fact, I understand that some people have already found new jobs.
The stewards I met at Trafford Park were good people doing their best for the workers they represent. I wish them well in their search for new employment opportunities and will await with interest the report from the OFT. n