Norwich firm Briar Chemicals boosted by landmark order

Briar Chemicals site manager Tim Green at the Norwich facility.Picture by SIMON FINLAY.

Briar Chemicals site manager Tim Green at the Norwich facility.Picture by SIMON FINLAY. - Credit: Archant Norfolk

The successful manufacture of its first new product as an independent company has boosted the long-term prospects for Briar Chemicals, one of Norwich's major employers.

Site manager Tim Green described the outlook for the company's 230 staff and up to 40 contractors as 'good' and said recent investment of nearly £6m in a new control system and chemical waste treatment plant underlined confidence in the future.

When multi-national Bayer CropScience sold the Sweet Briar Road site to Munich-based investment firm Aurelius in 2012 it agreed a transitional contract guaranteeing work, on a gradually diminishing scale, for five years - putting the onus on Briar to extend its product portfolio and develop new customers.

Mr Green said he was confident the landmark order by a US firm for 400 tonnes of a herbicide formulation would now pave the way for future deals.

However, he warned that while the outlook was good, the firm needed to carefully control its costs to be competitive.

Speaking at a time when the GMB union is locked in pay talks on behalf of white collar staff - a year after strike action by blue collar employees was only averted by a two-year 0.5pc pay deal - Mr Green said: 'It is one of our challenges to make everyone realise that working for an independent company which offers services many other companies offer is different to being part of a multi-national.

'We have shown staff how we compare to our rivals in terms of costs and how we need to improve our cost competitiveness.'

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He stressed the fact they were one of the best payers in Norfolk with an average salary of £40,000 for their skilled operators.

Mr Green said Briar had maintained a £45m turnover in its first years as an independent and had been 'extremely busy, running at near full capacity'.

However, turnover would drop by £3m to £4m next year when Bayer moved one of its contracts for a herbicide intermediate.

That left them looking for a new customer for one of their plants and, even after sealing a contract, it would take up to two years of safety studies and modifications before production could start.

In response to the loss of business they were offering staff the chance to take early retirement at 60 with many not being replaced.

Mr Green described their first new order as an independent as a 'terrific effort from our technical group and the staff in our formulation site'.

He said: 'This has demonstrated exactly the approach that we have to take as an independent chemical contracting company and will be the first of many more.'

Briar was currently in discussion with the customer regarding higher volumes for 2015 and a potential longer-term contract.

He said: 'Our discussions with this customer continue and it is a positive story for the longer-term future of the site. We are also in discussion with other third parties and are pleased with the way business is progressing.'

As well as the good links they were forging with new companies - helped by their exemplary safety record - they retained a good relationship with Bayer.

'They have already indicated they want to maintain the relationship with us after five years,' he said.

In the meantime, Briar would be looking to diversify into new fields such as pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.

The GMB union was contacted regarding the pay talks but declined to comment.