Business chief backs Norfolk’s manufacturing sector amid Colman’s and Britvic factory closure
PUBLISHED: 08:17 08 January 2018 | UPDATED: 10:12 08 January 2018
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“Norfolk is most definitely open for business.”
That is the clear message from the Norfolk Chamber of Commerce.
But despite the county having improved links to other parts of the UK, a burgeoning technology industry and access to University of East Anglia graduates, chamber chief executive Chris Sargisson believes that message is not being shared.
His backing for the state of Norfolk manufacturing comes amid the backdrop of Unilever announcing the closure of Colman’s and Britvic operations in Norwich.
Mr Sargisson said the main reason businesses did well in Norfolk was because the county offered a good work/life balance for residents.
Mr Sargisson believed that balance allowed businesses to succeed.
He said: “Norfolk is a good place to run a manufacturing business. We [Norfolk businesses] are accused of not shouting about ourselves. We have to work hard to change that.”
The chief executive said the case of Colman’s and Britvic moving to other locations had more impact because of Colman’s history and because both businesses relied on each other.
“There will be businesses that change and adapt and do things differently,” Mr Sargisson said. “There are organisations that are doing better than normal. There are manufacturing businesses that are starting up and doing well.”
Norfolk also has good connections to the rest of the country and infrastructure had improved over the last 20 years, according the business chief.
He added: “We are well-connected. We have got work to do with infrastructure but that work is getting done.
“Norfolk is viewed as being isolated but there is massive investment in East Anglia’s rolling stock.”
But he said the manufacturing sector needed to use more technology.
“I think technology will be the next industrial revolution...We have to put the two environments together.”
Farming is also using technology, through robotics and engineering to boost yields.
Mr Sargisson said: “We have got a good opportunity in Norfolk to create a good food hub. We have got more manufacturers that can produce the goods.”
Business success stories
Two Norfolk manufacturing businesses which are doing well are Cawston-based Broadland Wineries and STM Packaging Group in Norwich.
Mark Lansley, Broadland Wineries chairman, said its main growth in 2017 was business with restaurants and bars.
He said sales had stayed around £60m but the firm had increased staff to 135 by employing five people.
Mr Lansley said: “Our new brands are starting to be recognised for their high quality and value. We are fortunate to have a stable and professional winery team, which in part comes from Norfolk being a place where folk like to stay because of the quality of life.
“Being somewhat remote from key UK population centres and our customers headquarters, fast and reliable transport links are vital.”
The company’s turnover abroad is 5pc - Mr Lansley added the firm was trying to grow internationally.
He said the benefits of being in Norfolk were its “staff stability and work ethic” and the company’s proximity to Felixstowe port.
The chairman said disadvantages of being in Norfolk were distance from customers’ headquarters and depots and “occasionally struggling to find local candidates for niche highly-skilled jobs”.
Esther Evans, managing director of STM Packaging Group which makes polythene packaging and runs an e-commerce business, said the company’s turnover was £6m.
It is projected to rise by 15pc over the next year.
STM Packaging Group employs 46 staff and provides industrial products to Italy and trades in the pharmaceutical and medical markets in the UK.
Ms Evans said: “The location has certainly not been a hindrance and in the case of exporting to Italy, it helps to be near east coast ports.
“We have experience of running manufacturing units in other parts of the country and we find that the Norfolk personnel are very willing to train and learn. We can access a wide range of skills in the area.”
She added there was an issue of attracting people with traditional engineering skills.
Technology corridor and enterprise zones key to business developmemt
Enterprise zones and the Cambridge to Norwich “tech corridor” are two main factors in driving business in Norfolk, according to experts.
Nova Fairbank, Norfolk Chamber of Commerce public affairs manager, said: “To better enable the Norfolk business community to grow, we will to continue to work with our partners to lobby hard to gain greater infrastructure improvements that are delivered as soon as possible to maximise the benefit for the business community.
“There are a great many business prospects going forward, with opportunities such as the Cambridge to Norwich Tech Corridor and the enterprise zones in Great Yarmouth, King’s Lynn and Norwich – all designed to develop greater economic growth and jobs for our region.”
A series of specialist zones featuring superfast broadband, discounted business rates and relaxed planning rules were launched in 2016.
The A11 dualling in 2014 was seen as a boost to the Cambridge to Norwich “tech corridor”.
MP calling for a brand change after Colman’s operations move
It is a link which stretches back more than 160 years, with many from Norfolk proud to see Norwich emblazoned on Colman’s Mustard.
But after the closure of the Colman’s factory was announced on Thursday, the MP for its new production site has called for the city’s name to be scrapped from the brand.
Unilever, which owns the Carrow Works site where Colman’s is processed, said after the closure around 43 roles would be moved to Burton-on-Trent.
Burton MP Andrew Griffiths has called for jars to ditch the Colman’s of Norwich branding, and instead replace it with Colman’s of Burton.
The Burton Mail reported Conservative Mr Griffiths felt it would “only be fit and proper” to have ‘Made in Burton-on-Trent” on Colman’s mustard jars - when the firm moves to the town in 2019.
Unilever vice president of supply chain, Jon Strachan, said the Colman’s of Norwich branding would remain.