'Serious questions' over national security

‘National security’ concerns as Suffolk factory threatened with closure

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Serious questions involving national security and corporate motivation need to be answered over plans to close the LeBronze Alloys plant in Ipswich, Suffolk, Unite, said today (July 8).

Unite understands that the site, which employs 85 workers, is one of the last remaining UK-based suppliers of non-ferrous metals to the Ministry of Defence (MoD), which, the union says, clearly raises issues regarding the supply chain and procurement policies.

Unite is also questioning the motives of top management at the international company, which bought the firm, formerly known as Bolton Metals, three years ago, as to whether closure was always the plan and that Covid-19 is now being used as an excuse.

Unite regional officer Neal Evans said, “There are serious questions that need to be asked in relation to the national security implications of one of the last UK suppliers of non-ferrous metals to the MoD being closed.

“We are also suspicious of the motives of the top executives as to whether they always wanted to close the Ipswich site which was bought from a competitor three years ago and that the coronavirus emergency is being used as a convenient smokescreen for closure.”

Unite said that the staff at the site have worked throughout the lockdown, having been told on 31 March by the company that their work was critical for ‘infrastructure projects and maintenance activities in relation to oil, gas, nuclear, aerospace, defence, marine, shipping, chemical and pharmaceutical projects worldwide’.

In the most recent accounts, Covid-19 and Brexit were identified as potential risks; however, the annual report approved by the directors on 28 May concluded that ‘no significant direct implications are expected’.

Despite this apparent vote of confidence, the manager of the site left the business on 29 May and on 2 June the company announced its proposal to close the entire site.

Neal Evans added, “This raises the question as to why the option to furlough the workforce was not taken up. As it stands, our members feel betrayed that they have worked through the lockdown only to discover they have accelerated their own redundancies.

“The management has been vague as to when the site will close and the timetable for redundancies, despite being pressed by Unite,” he added.

“We produced a counter proposal to keep the site open and secure the jobs of the highly skilled workforce, showing that the Ipswich operation is more efficient than the company’s other European plants – but today the company rejected our alternative proposal which is very short-sighted.

“Suffolk, a predominately rural county, has only a small manufacturing base and can ill-afford to lose such highly skilled jobs at what is a profitable site.”

By Shaun Noble

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