Troubled factory saga takes a new twist as councillors speak of disappointment

CONCERNED community leaders have spoken of their disappointment after Amble was hit with a double dose of bad news.

Last week, the Gazette revealed that the future of the planned Tesco supermarket in the town, which would have created 150 jobs, was in doubt after it had been placed under review, following the company’s bleak Christmas trading period.

On top of that, fresh fears were cast for the town’s troubled Border Laird factory – where up to 80 jobs are on the line – after a leaked memo showed that Young’s Seafood Limited was considering moving the production of fish cakes from the Coquet Enterprise Park site to Grimsby, which could result in some temporary lay-offs.

Some staff had also been disciplined, leading to dismissal in some cases.

However, the saga has taken another twist, following news that the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) is looking into the acquisition by Lion Capital LLP – which separately owns Young’s Seafood – of the business and certain assets of Cumbrian Holdings Ltd, Cumbrian Seafoods Ltd and Border Laird Ltd, and is considering whether to refer it to the Competition Commission.

Speaking after the double blow announcement, Mayor of Amble, Coun Leslie Bilboe said: “It has been a sad few days for the town. It is a wicked shame.”

The uncertain futures of the Tesco store and Border Laird follow last year’s closure of the former Northumberland Foods factory, which took the total number of jobs lost at the site to more than 200.

There are also concerns that the possible closure of Lynemouth’s under-threat Rio Tinto Alcan plant, with over 600 positions at risk, will have a big impact throughout Northumberland.

Amble town councillor Ian Hinson said it would be a ‘disaster’ if the Tesco store was deferred, adding that there was ‘only so much that the community can take’, while county councillor Jeff Watson, ward member for Amble West with Warkworth, said that it would have brought ‘desperately-needed jobs’ to the area.

Amble town and county councillor Robert Arckless described Amble as ‘one little town caught in the eye of this particular storm’ but said that he didn’t want to ‘paint a picture of all doom and gloom’ and wanted to encourage and support local traders who have ‘ploughed on through some pretty tough times’.

A spokeswoman for Young’s Seafood admitted the OFT investigation, saying: “The OFT has confirmed that its request should not be taken as any indication that the agency has substantive concerns regarding this transaction, but is simply a part of its normal diligence in complying with their statutory duty. The OFT clears unconditionally most of the transactions that it reviews, but in a small number of cases, may refer them to the UK’s Competition Commission for further investigation.

“Our legal counsel is confident that this transaction merits unconditional clearance, and has outlined for the OFT various reasons why the transaction should not give rise to any substantive concern. The OFT has indicated that as long as there is evidential support for these reasons, then the transaction should not present an issue.

“The standard timetable for conclusion of the OFT review is expected to fit well within the normal time period of consultation with Cumbrian employees over the future of the sites.”

An OFT spokesman said that the merger investigation was opened on January 12 and today was the final date for comments. A decision is expected by March 6.