Hundreds of staff at Bernard Matthews face uncertain wait as speculation continues to swirl around company’s future

Bernard Matthews pictured at Great Witchingham Hall. Picture: Keiron Tovell.

Bernard Matthews pictured at Great Witchingham Hall. Picture: Keiron Tovell. - Credit: EDP Norfolk Magazine Archant

Unions have sought discussions with management about the fate of the firm, after reports emerged that a sale to the 2 Sisters Food Group is imminent.

However, Bernard Matthews' pension deficit is reported to be a stumbling block in the negotiations, with national media suggesting that the Pension Protection Fund (PPF) may be called in if the business is sold in a pre-pack administration - a deal in which a buyer takes a company's assets, but not liabilities such as its pension scheme.

That could mean hundreds of current and former workers seeing their pension payments change.

Under PPF rules, existing pensioners would not see their payments change but future increases could be reduced, and members who have not yet reached retirement could see their payments cut by 10%.

A spokesman for the troubled turkey producer, which has been seeking a buyer since June, maintained it was 'business as usual' until its owners Rutland Partners revealed its plans.

While unions are seeking answers from management, councillors have voiced concerns about jobs being protected at the company, which has its headquarters at Great Witchingham in Norfolk.

Andrew Proctor, leader of Broadland District Council, said: 'The issue for us with a business like that is the number of people it employs. We want to keep the jobs.'

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Unite regional officer Mark Walker said: 'Unite is currently having discussions with the management of Bernard Matthews on a number of issues about the future of the firm. Until those discussions have concluded, Unite won't be making any further statement.'

A PPF spokesman said it could not comment on specific companies, but added: 'In the event of an insolvency event at a company with an eligible pension scheme, members can be reassured that we are there to protect them.' The food producer 2 Sisters, which has a factory near Thetford, is understood to be the front-runner to buy Bernard Matthews.

The group, which owns brands including Goodfella's pizzas and Fox's biscuits, recently acquired the restaurant chain Giraffe from Tesco and is owned by entrepreneur Ranjit Boparan.

EDP/EADT Top100 firm Bernard Matthews has endured a turbulent few years and, despite Rutland Partners launching a turnaround plan in 2014, sales have continued to fall.

In July it announced the sale of its German subsidiary for €14m in an attempt to reduce its debt. Rutland Partners said it would not comment on speculation.

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