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Brexit minister says there is ‘no room for complacency’ over threatened Norfolk jobs

PUBLISHED: 14:38 30 November 2017 | UPDATED: 14:38 30 November 2017

Steve Baker, Minister from the Department for Exiting the EU visits Pasta Foods's factory in Norwich where he is shown around by MD Gordon Chetworth.
Byline: Sonya Duncan
Copyright: Archant 2017

Steve Baker, Minister from the Department for Exiting the EU visits Pasta Foods's factory in Norwich where he is shown around by MD Gordon Chetworth. Byline: Sonya Duncan Copyright: Archant 2017

Archant 2017

A government minister says there is “no complacency” at Westminster over the potential loss of hundreds of jobs across Norfolk.

Steve Baker, Minister from the Department for Exiting the EU visits Pasta Foods's factory in Norwich where he is shown around by MD Gordon Chetworth.
Byline: Sonya Duncan
Copyright: Archant 2017 Steve Baker, Minister from the Department for Exiting the EU visits Pasta Foods's factory in Norwich where he is shown around by MD Gordon Chetworth. Byline: Sonya Duncan Copyright: Archant 2017

During a visit to ingredient supplier Pasta Foods’ Norwich factory, Steve Baker, minister for exiting the European Union, said the government was “determined to take steps” to ensure certainty for UK businesses.

Close to 1,700 jobs are at risk in Norfolk after companies including Britvic, Colman’s maker Unilever and the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) said they could move operations out of the county. The latest blow came for 148 Palmer & Harvey employees in Brandon, Suffolk on Tuesday as the wholesaler went into administration.

Since the EU referendum businesses have been clamouring for certainty and assurances from the government around the UK economy and labour market.

But Mr Baker said any link between the companies’ decisions to cut jobs and uncertainty caused by the Brexit process would be “speculation”.

Steve Baker, Minister from the Department for Exiting the EU visits Pasta Foods's factory in Norwich where he is shown around by MD Gordon Chetworth.
Byline: Sonya Duncan
Copyright: Archant 2017 Steve Baker, Minister from the Department for Exiting the EU visits Pasta Foods's factory in Norwich where he is shown around by MD Gordon Chetworth. Byline: Sonya Duncan Copyright: Archant 2017

“If people have evidence it is related to any kind of uncertainty they should show that to us and we can take steps,” he said.

“There is no room for complacency, but employment is at a record high in the UK and in any economy there will be turnover in employment. Although that is no comfort to people losing their jobs, we are taking steps to ensure we have a vibrant economy.”

In response to concerns about labour shortages in the East of England in industries which rely on EU workers, Mr Baker said: “This is an area which voted overwhelmingly to leave. People have sent us the signal that they want us to have control of our migration policy.”

He added: “There is hope for people who need to find work because firms are giving a very strong message about the supply of labour.”

Firms like Pasta Foods, which exports dried pasta and snacks around the world, have benefited from the slump in sterling since the vote to leave, but Mr Baker said he recognised the difficulties for companies disadvantaged by the devaluation.

“There has been an adjustment in the currency but as we get an increasing degree of certainty I would expect it to adjust again.

“Everything I have seen at Pasta Foods gives indications of the positive success we can have as we leave the EU.”

The post-referendum success of Pasta Foods

Pasta Foods makes dried pasta for use in salads, ready meals and canned products.

Its factory in Norwich, which opened in 2015, can churn out 1,750kg of pasta an hour – equivalent to between 10,000 and 12,000 tonnes a year.

It also makes snacks from potatoes, chickpeas and lentils, around 70% of which are exported around the world including to Europe, the US and the Middle East.

Managing director Gordon Chetwood said both sides of the business were fairing well, with total turnover growing from £24.5m in 2015/16 to £28m in 2016/17.

The company also plans to grow its workforce as a result of new business opportunities opened up by the Brexit vote.

Mr Chetwood said his biggest concern over Brexit was for East Anglia’s labour market, despite Pasta Foods having a “loyal and stable workforce” at its factories in Costessey and Great Yarmouth.

“A lot of companies are totally reliant on labour from abroad because we have a limited pool of it,” he said.

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