Food factory deal collapses

DEVASTATED workers are coming to terms with losing their jobs after the death knell was finally sounded for the latest take-over bid at a troubled food factory, ending months of uncertainty.

Around 80 people have been made redundant after attempts by Longbenton Foods to purchase the former Northumberland Foods site in Amble fell though.

The final blow was dealt when the Newcastle-based company was put into administration on Friday, killing off its bid to revive the fortunes of the Coquet Enterprise Park factory.

Yesterday, a meeting was called at The Granary Leisure Complex in Amble by administrators Grant Thornton – acting on behalf of Longbenton Foods – to discuss the future with workers from the Amble factory.

Administrator Joe McLean told the Gazette: “Before Longbenton Foods went into administration, it was seeking to acquire the assets of Northumberland Foods at Amble.

“Longbenton Foods paid substantial deposits towards that but wasn’t able to complete that transaction and won’t proceed.”

But he paid tribute to the staff who had worked at the Amble site and how they handled the news.

“I was impressed by their resilience and their understanding,” he said.

“They are clearly disappointed by events. The circumstances haven’t been kind to them.

“It is more than unfortunate that I have had to come out and make them redundant in what are difficult economic times.”

The blow ends the long-running Longbenton Foods saga at the Amble site, which began last August when Northumberland Foods went into administration.

In October, Longbenton re-employed some of the staff.

But the company’s reign was marred with problems, including complaints from staff about not being paid and the factory closing on a number of occasions, including just before Christmas, after which it remained shut.

And earlier this year, more doubt surrounded the factory’s future when it, along with machinery from the site, was put up for sale, advertised online at Sweeney Kincaid Industrial Auctioneering.

Now, after months of uncertainty, Longbenton Foods has announced it cannot complete the deal.

After yesterday’s meeting, workers spoke of both their disappointment at losing their jobs and their anger at being kept in limbo for so long.

Rob Townsley, who has worked at the site for 18 years, under four different owners, said: “It has been the uncertainty – not knowing if you’re in work or not. And then it comes to this after three-and-a-half months (of being closed).”

Another worker, who did not want to be named, simply said: “I feel sick.”

MP Sir Alan Beith has vowed to do all he can to help those who have lost their jobs and to try to secure a future at the factory.

He said: “I will continue to make every effort to ensure that there is a future for the factory, which has been the largest employer in the Amble area.

“The factory has had its problems over the years but I really hope we can find a business to take it on and make it work.

“My immediate focus is on making sure the people who were working for Longbenton Foods get all the support they need and payments to which they are entitled.

“They are dedicated and hard-working and do not deserve to be in this awful situation.”

Amble Town Council chairman Leslie Bilboe described the news as a ‘very bad blow’ for the town.

However, speaking at last Thursday’s town council meeting, he told members that he believed there could be another company looking to move in.

“I am informed that there is another company waiting in the wings should Longbenton Foods fail,” he said.

The administration blow has also rocked workers at Longbenton Foods’ Benton Lane site in Newcastle with the majority of employees there – with the exception of a skeleton staff – also being made redundant.