An at-risk pharmaceutical site which was in danger of closing with the loss of more than 130 jobs, could be saved, after talks started over a potential sale.
In September, American firm Covance announced that the future of the Alnwick-based factory was in doubt and staff were issued with consultation letters notifying them of potential redundancy.
The company said that a more challenging European market and the end of contractual payments in October from Sanofi, from whom Covance bought the factory in 2010, had threatened the future of operations at the site, which employs 132 people.
However, Covance is now in negotiations with Newcastle-based Shott Trinova LLP, with the aim of retaining at least 50 jobs.
Politicians have described the important breakthrough as pleasing, encouraging and welcome news before Christmas.
A Covance statement read: ‘Covance is starting consultation with employee representatives on current negotiations with Shott Trinova LLP. The negotiations include the transfer of the Covance Alnwick site and operations to a new company followed by a restructuring process.
‘Details of a potential agreement are part of the ongoing consultation with employee representatives and negotiations with Shott Trinova LLP. We anticipate completing negotiations and consultation in the first quarter of 2016’.
Shott Trinova LLP is a specialist investment and advisory firm focused on established small-and-medium-size-enterprises with high growth potential in industrial biotechnology, pharmaceuticals and the chemical technology sector.
Ian Shott, of Shott Trinova LLP, explained that the hope is for a sale to take place before the end of January with the site to be run by a new company, Arc Trinova, of which he would be managing director.
He said: “Our aim is to build a long-term business on that site and to stop it closing.”
Mr Shott said the plan is to retain at least 50 of the jobs.
He added: “I do not think all the jobs will be retained but we will try to retain a core. If we were not there, they would probably all be gone I think.”
Following the news that the Covance site was under threat, a regional task force was set up to look at a range of options, including finding a buyer for the site and supporting any potential purchasers and supporting employees.
The group task force, coordinated by Arch The Northumberland Development Company, includes representatives from organisations such as Northumberland County Council, The Centre for Process Innovation, UK Trade and Investment, Office for Life Sciences, Northumberland Learning and Skills Service and the Workforce Response Team from Jobcentre Plus. The North East Chamber of Commerce has also played an active role in the task force.
Coun Scott Dickinson, business chairman at the county council, visited the site last month. He said: “We welcome the developments at Covance and the start of consultation between the company and employee representatives on negotiations with Shott Trinova LLP.
“The negotiations are welcome news before Christmas and we hope these result in further positive developments in the New Year.”
Berwick MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan has been working with the task group and Covance. She also raised the issue in Parliament and secured the support of Life Sciences Minister George Freeman MP, who ensured the Office of Life Sciences would be able to offer as much support as possible.
She said: “I am very encouraged that everyone’s efforts to put this excellent business, with some of our leading scientists in the field, on the map, so they can find a new owner to be able to progress the work that they are already doing.
“It is really good news and I hope very much that the discussions to finalise a deal will go well in the new year.
“There is, without a doubt, a continuing need in the pharmaceutical industry for this very specialised research work that goes on at Covance and I hope that Alnwick will continue to be a source of that work.”
Alnwick county councillors Gordon Castle and Heather Cairns also welcomed the news.
Coun Castle said: “It is very encouraging and to hear that there is the prospect of at least a core element of the workforce remaining in their jobs in Alnwick is very good.
“I also think this has been a good example of cross-party involvement getting a result.”
Coun Cairns added: “I will be absolutely delighted if any jobs can be saved and we retain the presence, in the town, of a highly efficient and effective business.”