Search

Petition launched today as battle begins to save 200 jobs at closure-threatened Heinz food factory near North Walsham

10:39 09 October 2014

The threatened Heinz factory at Worstead, near North Walsham. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

The threatened Heinz factory at Worstead, near North Walsham. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2014

A petition has been launched calling for a rethink over the planned closure of a Norfolk food factory which would axe 200 jobs.

Aunt Bessie's products whose withdrawal from the Heinz Westwick factory is behind the  closure plans.Aunt Bessie's products whose withdrawal from the Heinz Westwick factory is behind the closure plans.

Labour party supporters will be out in North Walsham town centre this morning, asking market day shoppers to sign up to their cause.

The community near the apparently doomed Heinz factory at Westwick is being asked to rally behind the endangered workers.
Town centre campaigners will be about from 10.30am but the petition can also be found online at www.jobsmeansheinz.co.uk.

Denise Burke, Labour’s Parliamentary Candidate for North Norfolk, said: “Heinz is a big employer here in North Walsham and to lose the factory would be so devastating for the families of the 200 people they currently employ, especially so close to Christmas.

“It would also have a knock-on effect on the local community and that is why we have set up this petition for residents to support the workers in their fight to get Heinz to reconsider.”

Production line workers packaging frozen sprouts at the Ross's Westwick factory at North Walsham before they were taken over by Heinz.Production line workers packaging frozen sprouts at the Ross's Westwick factory at North Walsham before they were taken over by Heinz.

Labour said they wanted to keep the pressure on company bosses them to ensure that they kept to their word and explored all of the options on the table.

The bitter blow to families and the local economy has been caused by bosses of the Aunt Bessie’s potato products pulling the contract from the Norfolk factory, which has been operating since 1948.

Workers were briefed on the closure plans yesterday lunchtime. But they were staying tight-lipped last night as the shift ended at 7pm – refusing to comment to an EDP reporter waiting at the factory gate.

They left briskly in their cars from the remote rural site, as the darkness and rain reflect the mood of shock and disappointment aired by local politicians and community leaders.

Latest jobs blow for area

The planned Heinz closure is the third big factory blow for the North Walsham area in the past 15 years.

The first shock wave came in 1999 when the Crane Fruehauf trailer factory on the Norwich Road closed its doors.

Five hundred people lost their jobs, but the busy factory - which had a sister factory at Dereham - employed double that in its heyday.

The site now has a Waitrose supermarket on part of it, providing 150 jobs, while one of the factory units has been converted into Davenport’s Magic Kingdom attraction.

Skeletal frames from other Crane’s building still stand there as a reminder of the engineering past.

Just three years later the town was left reeling when HL Foods shut its Norwich Road factory after 70 years of operation.

It had once employed 200 people canning fruit in summer and beans in winter.

HL Foods, based in Long Sutton, Lincolnshire, bought the plant from HP in 1996.

After many years of standing derelict, the site, clearly visible from the railway station, is being redeveloped for housing and train passenger parking.

Heinz said it was “deeply disappointed”, but that the switch of Aunt Bessie’s frozen potato products to another manufacturer meant there was not enough volume of work left to keep the factory operational.

The closure is likely to happen between February and April next year.

A company spokesman said: “Heinz fully appreciates and regrets the impact this proposal may have on employees and the local community.

“It is not a reflection of the commitment of our employees or the quality of the Aunt Bessie’s products they have made since 1999.”

A 45-day consultation period will see the company “consider suggestions made by employee representatives and will continue to explore alternatives to avoid or limit the impact of a potential closure,”

It would also explore opportunities to find a buyer for the factory.

Aunt Bessie frozen potato products, such as chips and roast potatoes, are made for the William Jackson Group.

The group’s chief executive Norman Soutar said the Heinz contract was reaching a natural end and they were keen to bring management in-house, giving “greater influence over long-term future direction.”

Production was switching to Agristo which is based in Belgium and the Netherlands.

A factory employee, who wished to remain anonymous, said he had found out on social media about the closure as he was not working yesterday. He said: “I knew it was going to happen but I didn’t think it would be this close to Christmas. I haven’t got a clue what I will do. It is out of order.”

Last August union bosses called for talks with Heinz bosses over streamlining plans which might affect the Norfolk factory. But the latest news is far more devastating.

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb said: “It is really distressing news. We need to explore all the options for the company. My thoughts go out to the families of the employees who will be going through a distressing time.”

He added a member of staff from the factory had approached him two weeks ago with concerns about the factory, and the MP wrote to the company to get more information.

North Norfolk District Council leader Tom FitzPatrick said the closure would have “a significant effect on North Walsham and the workforce.

“Over the years it has been a stable and loyal workforce. It as bad news for the area,” said Mr Fitzpatrick who said the council would try to help the workforce.

Council cabinet member for economic development Russell Wright said the factory was “massively important to the area” as one of the few big employers in north Norfolk.

Worstead Parish Council chairman Simon Cole said he was saddened by the news. “It seems a shame in this economic climate that those people are going to lose their jobs as a consequence,” he said.

“It has always been there and the relationship has always been extremely good with the factory.

“Hopefully whoever takes on the site will provide employment for people who are going to lose their jobs.”

North Walsham businessman Rob Scammell, who is leading a campaign to revitalise the town, said to lose 200 jobs was a huge thing for the town.

“It is a tragedy for anyone to lose their job and I know there are people who have been there for a long time,” he said.

Factory employee Matt Waitt, 25, of Pine Close in Ormesby St Margaret, has been working at the Heinz factory for three years as a machine technician.

He said: “I have got two young children and we were about to move house but I am not sure that’s going to happen now.

“It is a well paid job and there is not many of those around here.”

■ What do you think about the proposed closure? write (giving your full contact details) to: The Letters Editor, EDP, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE or email EDPLetters@archant.co.uk

Search hundreds of local jobs at Jobs24

22 comments

  • So_Many_Haters is the only one here who has got it right. Businesses in this country are crippled by business taxes which pushes up costs. And all because the council wants to buy disused airfields without a clue what to do with it.

    Report this comment

    Ruston East

    Thursday, October 9, 2014

  • Jeffrey Osborne - not sure what the hell you're going on about but rest assured, Norman Lamb has written a letter. No doubt when the lib dems are wiped from the political map at the next election, we'll still be stuck with Lamby. Maybe the people of North Norfolk are all bots (I've no idea what that means by the way).

    Report this comment

    Ruston East

    Thursday, October 9, 2014

  • Consumers want cheaper prices in shops = supermarkets want cheaper prices from suppliers = suppliers want cheaper prices from manufacturers. And there is usually only one that's the cheapest. Manufacturers are not charities and do not produce products that they have no customer for. It's how the World works and you can moan all you like but we all contribute to it.

    Report this comment

    DAVID WILLGRESS

    Thursday, October 9, 2014

  • Whenever something goes wrong in Norfolk the right-wing commenters have their lines ready. Labour! Minimum wage! Trade unions! EU! Are we sure they're not bots?

    Report this comment

    Jeffrey Osborne

    Thursday, October 9, 2014

  • It is down to pure economics. Agristo has a modern plant which already produces potato products and quite clearly has undercut the Westwick factory. The William Jackson Group is not a philanthropic organization and is there to make a profit for its shareholders. As we have no trade borders in the EU, commercial decisions like this are made everyday of the week. Sometimes we are the winners, sometimes unfortunately we are the losers.

    Report this comment

    BG

    Thursday, October 9, 2014

  • How does the current government affect a business decision like that? What specific policies have they introduced that made the company decide to move operations? Don't forget, they came to power in the worst recession we've seen for a hundred years, when Labour had spent all the money and had increased indirect taxation (do you remember how much your council tax bill USED to be?), yet had also sold the country's assets at a knock-down price. It was Labour that made it easier for foreign workers to come to the UK, or for foreign companies to bid for our jobs and take them abroad (look at all the IT and call centre jobs that went to India). One party can be as bad as another.

    Report this comment

    So_Many_Haters!

    Thursday, October 9, 2014

  • @Norfolk John - but the jobs have gone to Belgium and Holland (in your hated Eurozone). Guess what? Both have a minimum wage that is higher than that in the UK. And I can assure you that Health & Safety is just as tight in those two countries as it is in the UK. As indeed it should be.

    Report this comment

    GoneAway

    Thursday, October 9, 2014

  • Its this Tory Government we have in charge-they need rooting out like all evil that abounds us-we get another 5 years of that lot then God help us all-thas all I can say.

    Report this comment

    Colin James Watling

    Thursday, October 9, 2014

  • Don't forget the good old days of old days of union-led manufacturing that made Britain such a leading light in the world, such as British Leyland. We life in a global marketplace, and other countries are competing to get the work so they can improve the lot for their own citizens. If we can't compete, we lose.

    Report this comment

    So_Many_Haters!

    Thursday, October 9, 2014

  • I imagine you'd also like to bring back Child labour as well wouldn't you john, and Slavery.

    Report this comment

    Callum Ringer

    Thursday, October 9, 2014

  • Yes it's unfortunate - however business decisions such as these are not just happening in Norfolk. Having worked in the manufacturing world myself for a considerable amount of years it's nothing new to see products being produced elsewhere in order to keep in business andor give consumers more for their money. I'm sure options have been discussed behind the scenes - companies don't go to this extreme unless it's financially viable - they do after all exist to make profits. The petition idea might provide some hope to the employees, but unfortunately petitions and hope don't keep the production lines flowing. My thoughts are with the employees through this difficult period.

    Report this comment

    littlenewshound

    Thursday, October 9, 2014

  • Perhaps if this country didn’t have the minimum wage and disproportionate Health & Safety restrictions holding the economy back, perhaps this factory may have been competitive in the marketplace.

    Report this comment

    Norfolk John

    Thursday, October 9, 2014

  • Well no one should allow a company to get away with something like this so easily - a petition will keep up the pressure. It's a big company, there is no reason to shut the factory just because of one contract.

    Report this comment

    Jono

    Thursday, October 9, 2014

  • Petition ? What good will that do ? These companies, don't give a monkey's about people as they have absolutely no morals, whatsoever.

    Report this comment

    D. ROSS

    Thursday, October 9, 2014

  • The contract may have gone but nothing stopping another buyer coming along and using the factory. Hopefully it'll happen.

    Report this comment

    Jeffrey Osborne

    Thursday, October 9, 2014

  • @Norfolk John - do you like it that life has been reduced to 'a matter of pure economics'? It doesn't actually have to be like this, you know. And hey, guess what, Heinz could quite easily push work towards North Walsham if they wanted to. Peter Watson is quite right (again) - workers as disposable ants, noting more. Their loyalty counts for nothing in this brave, new right-ist world.

    Report this comment

    GoneAway

    Thursday, October 9, 2014

  • There has to be a better way than this globalised,predatory capitalism of Nestle in Norwich,the Cromer Crab Factory on the coast,and now Heinz.Workers and their families are simply seen as units of production,figures on the bankers' accounts who can be wiped out at the stroke of a pen,necessary collateral damage to protect the bottom-line.It's an anti-human strategy where people don't count.

    Report this comment

    Peter Watson

    Thursday, October 9, 2014

  • Once again this emphasise that all towns in Norfolk should forget about more fancy housing estates, supermarkets etc and concentrate on bringing good, solid jobs to the county

    Report this comment

    weaversway

    Thursday, October 9, 2014

  • Norfolk John, there is no harm done in the local community rallying round to show support for the workers and the factory, and given that there is a consultation period it is completely appropriate to organise a petition. No one is disputing that the loss of a contract is going to effect the amount of work, but us 'lefties' will do no harm in trying to help the workforce there while the far right sit and smugly watch free market economics put another 200 local people on the dole.

    Report this comment

    Callum Ringer

    Thursday, October 9, 2014

  • Great! - Labour party supporters are arranging a petition and have set up a website with a silly name. What these poor misguided people don’t seem to understand is that Heinz have lost the contract to make these products and there will be no more work because of this. So the lefties and the Labour lot can petition all they like but no contract = no more work. It is a matter of pure economics.

    Report this comment

    Norfolk John

    Thursday, October 9, 2014

  • Aunt Bessie frozen potato products are made for the William Jackson Group. Production was switching to Agristo which is based in Belgium and the Netherlands. Oh great, more work shipped abroad :(

    Report this comment

    catalonia13

    Thursday, October 9, 2014

  • I worked at HL Foods, and that ended up being shut down even though people tried to keep it open, and now its a pile of rubble.

    Report this comment

    susiewong

    Thursday, October 9, 2014

The views expressed in the above comments do not necessarily reflect the views of this site

Latest from the EDP

HOT JOBS

Show Job Lists

Most Read

Featured Pages

Most Commented

Partly Cloudy

Partly Cloudy

max temp: 24°C

min temp: 18°C

Listen to the latest weather forecast

Digital Edition

cover

Enjoy the EDP
digital edition

Subscribe

Newsletter Sign Up