We ask Norwich MPs, councils, business groups and unions what they are doing to save Colman’s and Britvic

Colman's Mustard made by Unilever.

Colman's Mustard made by Unilever. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2016

As uncertainty grows over the future of the Britvic and Colman’s Norwich factories, we ask local representatives what they are doing to help.

Norwich South MP Clive Lewis.
Picture: ANTONY KELLYNorwich South MP Clive Lewis. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

It is understood that a “crunch meeting” between Britvic and union representatives will take place this month to potentially outline its future in the city.

And so with the deadline looming, we asked MPs, councils and other relevant organisations to explain how they are helping to protect hundreds of jobs.

On Tuesday, October 3, Britvic announced plans to close its Norwich factory and switch production to other parts of the UK, hitting 242 jobs.

Later that morning Unilever, the maker of Colman’s Mustard, announced it was considering its own future at the Bracondale site.

New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership Managing Director Chris Starkie. Photo: Angela Sharpe PhotographyNew Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership Managing Director Chris Starkie. Photo: Angela Sharpe Photography

Through the EDP and Evening News’s They Must Be Saved campaign we are fighting to help keep both factories open in the city.

Here is what your local representatives had to say...

MP Chloe Smith ‘working hard behind the scenes’

The new chief executive of Norfolk Chamber of Commerce, Chris Sargisson. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYThe new chief executive of Norfolk Chamber of Commerce, Chris Sargisson. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Norwich North MP Chloe Smith said she had been working hard behind the scenes to secure a positive outcome for employees at both factories.

The Conservative MP said she spoke with the agriculture and food minister, George Eustice, to seek DEFRA’s influence on Unilever’s decision.

She said she had also spoken with the Department for Work and Pensions to ensure its rapid response service was available if necessary.

Ms Smith said she had also sought information from the minister of international trade to see how his department could help.

Norfolk county councillor Keith Kiddie. Pic: Norfolk Conservatives.Norfolk county councillor Keith Kiddie. Pic: Norfolk Conservatives.

She added: “We need to continue to make the case for both businesses staying in Norwich and I hope that the public will continue to demonstrate the strength of feeling there is for these sites to remain open. I have worked hard behind the scenes in parliament and with the companies so far and will carry on doing so.”

Clive Lewis attempting to bring in third-party mediator

Norwich South MP Clive Lewis said he was looking at getting an “internationally-renowned” third-party mediator involved in the situation.

Alan Waters, leader of Norwich City Council. Pic: Jeff Taylor.Alan Waters, leader of Norwich City Council. Pic: Jeff Taylor.

He said the expert mediator would review the companies’ conclusions about keeping production in Norwich before any public announcement is made.

This would include their financial assessments, and consultations.

However, he added: “This would depend on the companies being willing to make available their assessments to this third party after they are approached about this.”

Mr Lewis said he was working with trade unions, had met with the general manager of Unilever UK and Ireland, and was attempting to meet with the GB managing director of Britvic.

Unite national officer Rhys McCarthy. Picture: Martin Scanlon.Unite national officer Rhys McCarthy. Picture: Martin Scanlon.

The Labour MP said he had also reminded Unilever of its commitments to all stakeholders.

LEP providing information to Unilever’s review process to support continued production in city

The New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) said its discussions with Unilever were focused on gaining an understanding of the company’s review process.

Chris Starkie, LEP managing director, said the next step was to look at how the LEP can assist the company in maintaining production in the city.

He said the LEP would be providing information to support Unilever’s review process to support continued production in Norwich.

In regard to Britvic, Mr Starkie said the company had not responded to the LEP’s letter.

“Discussions with Britvic have been limited as the company has not been prepared to formally engage whilst its consultation is underway”, he added.

However, he said the LEP would continue to engage with Britvic to “understand” its plans. Discussions with other local organisations have also touched on ways to mitigate any impact of closure.

Norfolk Chamber of Commerce talking with people in local supply chain

The Norfolk Chamber of Commerce said it had been talking to people in the local supply chain linked to Colman’s to ensure they are supported.

Chief executive Chris Sargisson added that it had agreed to work in partnership with the council with the aim of supporting calls for both factories to remain in the city.

Mr Sargisson, who said the loss of jobs would “impact heavily on the local economy”, added: “We have been using our own media channels to highlight the EDP [and Evening News’s] online petition to our members. We have been blogging our support and recently clearly stated the chamber’s position in an interview.

“The chamber has also been talking to people in the local supply chain, in particular, the farmers producing the mustard seed and the mint for Colman’s products and ensured that they in turn, are put in contact with the relevant local authorities, who can help support their needs.”

Norfolk County Council refuse to answer additional questions

Norfolk County Council refused to answer our questions, instead stating that everything it could say was mentioned at a public meeting on Monday.

During that meeting, county councillors said they would fight “tooth and nail” to keep the companies in the city.

Keith Kiddie, chairman of the council’s business and property committee, said: “We had a very productive meeting with Unilever and it was very positive to be working closely with the City Council and LEP with the shared objective of keeping production in Norwich.

“And whilst keeping the site economically active is important to our local economy, it’s important that we don’t lose sight of what really matters – supporting the employees who may be affected.”

In response to our questions, a council spokesman said: “We can’t say more than Keith said at the meeting, due to commercial confidentiality of ongoing discussions.”

Norwich City Council engaging with Britvic to understand its situation

Norwich City Council gave a limited response to our questions.

But leader Alan Waters said the local authority had a “positive” meeting with Unilever last week.

He also said the council was speaking with Britvic “because we need to understand their situation so we can support them as best as we can”.

“We’re working hard every day to mobilise a wide range of resources to ensure we do everything possible to safeguard such iconic brands and secure the future of a loyal and skilled workforce in Norwich,” he said.

“We’re also in discussions with both unions, GMB and Unite, as well as our key partners, the county council and the local enterprise partnership.”

At a Norfolk County Council meeting on Monday, he said the local authority would do “everything we can” to protect the jobs.

He added: “We want to help a business that has been synonymous with this city for over 200 years.”

Unions want ‘full and frank’ consultation with staff

Unions GMB and Unite are continuing to engage with both companies in a bid to keep the site’s open.

Ivan Mercer, GMB regional organiser, has already arranged meeting with union members and MP Clive Lewis to discuss the issue.

At a meeting last week, he said Britvic needed to provide a “full and frank” consultation with staff, which was yet to happen.

He stressed that the focus needed to be on the company, claiming that if its proposals to close are overturned, there was “no need” for Unilever to go.

“We will make every effort to make sure that happens,” he said.

Meanwhile, Rhys McCarthy, national officer for Unite the Union, said the organisation had met with Unilever, union representatives, MPs and the council on the issue. He said an independent assessor had been requested to look at the “veracity” of Unilever’s review of its site. However, he said requests to look at the review had not been “too positive.”

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