New years are supposed to be about positive new starts, however in Norfolk job loss announcements that began in 2018 continued into 2019 after another of the region’s major manufacturers declared on 10January that it intends to leave the county.
The news that Norwich’s Heatrae Sadia is consulting staff over amove to Preston, with the loss of 200 jobs, is the freshest blow toNorfolk’s economy, which was already reeling from the prospect of500 job losses that will occur later this year when Unilever, Britvicand the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) also leave.
Norfolk’s run of bad luck has led to questions over whether the county’s neglected transport network could be to blame and speaks to issues suffered by many of the UK’s rural areas more generally.
Unite regional officer Steve Harley described the job losses at water heater manufacturer Heatrae Sadia, which has operated in Norwich for 99 years, as a “hammer blow” to Norfolk’s economy.
He said, “Norwich can ill-afford to lose more highly skilled manufacturing jobs, especially with the uncertainly over Brexit and given that Norfolk is a predominately rural county.
“We will be strongly questioning why the production of the water cylinders and electric water heaters would be moved to Preston. This is cruel news for our more than 80 members at this company. We will be giving maximum support to our members and their families at this difficult and very challenging time.”
The announcement follows on from the news that Britvic and Unilever, producers of the iconic Colman’s Mustard – made in the Norwich for 200 years – are closing their sites by the end of 2019 and moving production to Burton on Trent.
Meanwhile, the CITB has told its 200 Norwich headquarters staff that they will have to relocate to York if they wish to keep their jobs, with the possibility of some staff being transferred to its other sites in Newcastle, Blackpool, Warrington and Newport in Wales – effectively making them redundant.
The workers, most of whom have worked at the CITB for many years,are employed in roles including: human resources, finance, procurement, technology, apprenticeship processing and some customer operations roles, were told in November that their jobs will be transferred to Shared Service Connected Ltd (SSCL) from February 2019.
Unite regional coordinating officer Mark Robinson said the CITB had betrayed its staff in its quest to save money through outsourcing.
“The CITB’s board’s abject failure to require SSCL to open a Norfolk office demonstrates a complete disregard for its workers. The vast majority of the workforce have families and it will be impossible for them to relocate,” Robinson said.
“At a time when major outsourcers such as Carillion have collapsed, Interserve is on life support and many organisations are insourcing their services; it is flying in the face of reason for the CITB to be undertaking a major outsourcing project. This has nothing to do with improving services and is all about political dogma.”
Outsourcing by private and public organisations, and the subsequent race to the bottom on pay and terms and conditions, has hit workers across Britain wherever they live.
However it is just one of the issues impacting rural regions such as Norfolk, Unite regional officer Harley explained.
“In general Norfolk, being a very rural area, suffers immensely from the cuts to public transport networks, with many people feeling isolated and in some cases trapped within their locality. The area suffers from a lack of investment in the road network and the A47 in particular is no longer fit for purpose,” he said.
“I even deal with employers, such as Bernard Matthews, who have two production sites in rural areas who struggle to recruit staff due to a lack of available labour, resulting in having to run their own transport (contract buses) from places such as Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft.”
Harley believes that accessibility is one of the main reasons that manufacturers such as Unilever, Britvic and Heatrae Sadia are leaving Norfolk.
“Increased road and rail networks would definitely help,” he said.
“When you look at the main spine of the country north to south, the road networks are relatively good. Going east or west of that and the network isn’t up to standard. Look at the A11, that’s recently been dualled but it’s still not fit for the amount of traffic travelling along there.”
No reason to pack up and go
Although there are major problems with Norfolk’s transport network, Harley is clear that it is still no reason for firms to just pack up and go.
He said, “If companies are trying to use the excuse of accessibility to leave Norfolk, I’d tell them to look at Bird’s Eye in Lowestoft. It’s the firm’s only manufacturing facility in the UK and it’s based right on the most easterly point.
“Perhaps we need to be asking these firms what it is Bird’s Eye is doing, and what are they prepared to do to stay here, that you’re not? It also appears to be a case that many businesses within Norwich and the outlying towns, don’t seem to have the will or foresight to look in to utilising airfreight out of Norwich Airport.”
The issues that Norfolk is running up against – under investment in infrastructure, the running down of public services and the outsourcing of jobs as part of a economic model that prioritises short term profits – are shared in many rural areas and have a common origin: The Tories dogmatic adherence to the policies of austerity and unrestrained capitalism.