Jobs fight as Alnwick factory earmarked for closure

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

Crucial support has been promised in a desperate bid to try to save more than 100 jobs at an under-threat pharmaceutical site which has been proposed for closure.

Staff at Covance, in Alnwick, were left ‘worried and angry’ last week after they were hit with the devastating news that they could be facing redundancy later in the year.

The company has said that the Willowburn Avenue factory will operate at a loss after five years of contractual payments by global healthcare leader Sanofi – which sold out to Covance in 2010 – come to an end after October.

American firm Covance says it is actively seeking a buyer for some or all of the site and will explore ways of avoiding the need for compulsory redundancies.

The company has been marketing the premises since April, but while there has been some interest, no formal offers have been made.

There are around 130 staff employed at the Alnwick laboratory and the news that their jobs are at risk has caused mass concern.

Yesterday, MP for Berwick Anne-Marie Trevelyan told the Gazette that moves are afoot to try to find a long-term solution.

A regional task force is being pulled together to work with the Office for Life Sciences – part of the Part of Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and Department of Health – to look at the crisis.

Northumberland County Council has also offered its support.

Mrs Trevelyan raised the issue in the House of Commons on Tuesday, to which George Freeman, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health, said: “The Office for Life Sciences stands ready and is taking a close interest.

“We have already made contact with the local authority and will offer every support we can to its bid to make sure the site remains viable and that we protect local jobs.”

Yesterday, she said that she hoped progress could be made and is set to meet staff and directors at the site soon.

She added: “I hope very much that a solution can be found for the site and it’s very high-quality staff. If Covance is unable to find a buyer, it would be a great tragedy for Alnwick.”

On Friday, the county council’s business chairman Coun Scott Dickinson, said: “The council is concerned about the potential loss of jobs and we are happy to work with anybody to try to resolve this and to offer support to assist in trying to find a buyer.”

The risk of closure has worried staff. One employee, who did not want to be named, said: “All of the staff are quite angry and concerned. They don’t think the site has been given a chance and we live in hope that a buyer is found.”

Alnwick county councillors Gordon Castle and Heather Cairns have expressed their shock and disappointment at the news.

The company has said that all roles at Alnwick are likely to be impacted if the site does close, but there may be some opportunities for staff to be redeployed to other Covance sites.

Covance will be carrying out a collective consultation exercise with the Alnwick Consultative Committee and will hold individual consultation meetings with staff.

A Covance spokeswoman said: “At the end of October, significant financial contractual commitments from Sanofi will end, which will immediately impact the profitability and/or viability of the Alnwick site, which will cease to be profitable and operate at a loss once these contractual payments end.

“Given the overall weak market in Europe, combined with the fact that market demands are not aligned with the specific capabilities offered in Alnwick, Covance projects these losses to continue and Covance is considering closing the Alnwick site.

“No decision about the site’s future will be made until the information/consultation process with employee representatives is completed.”

Covance is also trying to find a buyer for its site in Porcheville, France. Like in Alnwick, the contractual payments with Sanofi run out at the end of October and consultation with its 130-or-so staff began last week.