Group looks at options for under-threat Alnwick factory

The Covance site in Alnwick has been proposed for closure.
The Covance site in Alnwick has been proposed for closure.

A regional task force has been formed to look at options for the Covance site in Alnwick, which is facing potential closure.

Covance is a global company headquartered in the US with a site in Alnwick, where the company currently employs 132 people. Covance acquired the site from Sanofi in 2010 and as part of the five-year agreement, Sanofi agreed to contractual payments until the end of October.

MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan with Dr Sally Old at a meeting with staff and management at Covance in Alnwick.

MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan with Dr Sally Old at a meeting with staff and management at Covance in Alnwick.

A more challenging European market and the end of the contractual payments from Sanofi mean that the future viability of the site is in doubt. As previously reported by the Gazette, staff at the site were issued with consultation letters on September 9, notifying them of the risk of redundancy.

The Taskforce Group held its first meeting last week and discussed a wide range of options for staff and developments at the site. Representatives from organisations including The Centre for Process Innovation (CPI), UK Trade and Investment, Northumberland County Council, learning skills providers, Arch, and the Workforce Response Team from Jobcentre Plus, attended the first meeting. The North East Chamber of Commerce is also playing an active role in the group.

Sally Old, site lead at Covance in Alnwick, said: “Covance has been actively marketing the site through a specialised company over the past six months. We welcome the additional support by government and local authorities and are working closely with them to find a viable solution for the site.

“We have had a productive first meeting discussing a range of options and everyone is determined to find practical ways to help. Site closure is a proposal at present and no decision about the future of the site has been made.”

The options being looked at include finding a new buyer for the site, supporting interested parties in the purchase of the site and supporting employees at risk.

Coun Scott Dickinson, business chairman at Northumberland County Council, said: “Eighty per cent of the staff at Covance are local to the site and the company is an important employer providing skilled work in the county in the pharmaceutical sector. The council has pledged its full support to the company and workforce and we will do everything we can to protect jobs at the site.”

The potential closure has also been raised in the House of Commons with the Minister for Life Sciences, George Freeman, taking a keen interest in developments.

Berwick MP, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, who raised the issue in Parliament, is working with the company directly and with the Taskforce Group to ensure that all resources available are being used to support the process of consultation.

“I am pleased that the county council’s Taskforce Group is now up and running. Following guidance from the Minister and the Office for Life Sciences at the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, I have drawn together regional business leaders who will bring their expert knowledge of the pharma industry to the taskforce.

“I am under no illusions that for the US owner of the Alnwick site, Covance Inc, a swift solution is the focus of their input so it is imperative that the regional players pool their knowledge to find a going-concern solution for the site.

“Whil all the employees in Alnwick are highly-qualified and employable anywhere, it is vitally important to Alnwick’s economy and the region’s growing leadership in the pharma sector, that this taskforce does all in its power to find a buyer. I continue to be available night and day to assist all parties in any further way I can.”

The Taskforce Group will coordinate efforts with the company and with local, regional and national authorities. The group will continue to meet regularly throughout the consultation period.