MP demands ‘fast’ decision on factory’s future after coronavirus outbreak
- Credit: Ian Burt
The MP for Mid Norfolk has demanded a fast decision on the potential closure of a factory at the centre of Norfolk’s largest single Covid-19 outbreak.
George Freeman, who represents Mid Norfolk, said the government must “move quickly” if Cranswick Country Foods, in Watton, is to be shut.
Writing to health secretary Matt Hancock and environment secretary George Eustice, he requested a package of compensation for Cranswick and its workers, as well as more widespread testing.
In his letter to the cabinet ministers, Mr Freeman highlighted a similar outbreak in his constituency - at Banham Poultry in Attleborough - as showing lessons must be learned.
Referencing the high infection rate within the Cranswick workforce, he said: “This is precisely what I feared would happen when we had the outbreak at Banham Poultry back in the summer, when delays in authorising local track and trace caused the infection spread more widely and the company to suffer much bigger losses (£10m) than was necessary.
Mr Freeman wrote that, following numerous conversations with Norfolk County Council and Breckland Council, he was “asking on their behalf for four things”, the first being a prompt decision on the factory’s possible shutdown.
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“As we learnt at Banham, early delays have major consequences,” he added.
With more than 4,000 pigs in the chiller or about to be processed at Cranswick, the Conservative member of parliament went on to call for “proper culling compensation”.
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He said it would “protect animal welfare and ensure other food businesses are not discouraged from reporting outbreaks and cooperating with Public Health England, as has been the case at Banham and Cranswick.”
Regarding financial support for workers, Mr Freeman argued that a short-term furlough scheme should be introduced for those forced to stay at home in the event of the factory’s closure.
He added that Banham workers had not been able to survive on statutory sick pay, and alleged they had been forced to seek roles at other food processing plants - “thus spreading the virus”.
Mr Freeman’s fourth demand was for Covid-19 testing of Watton’s population in its entirety, in order to prevent “further spread into the community” and a local lockdown with “devastating” effect on the area’s economy.