Norwich Fountains workers: Our world has come tumbling down after job losses

Fountains workers and their families have said their worlds came 'tumbling down' after the announcement they had lost their jobs.

The Norwich City Council contractor Fountains Group went into administration yesterday, which meant 153 workers were made redundant.

The environmental management company, formerly known as Connaught Environmental Services, had a �4.6m a year contract with the city council to clean streets and maintain parks.

It also had a �3.3m a year contract to collect rubbish and recycling from thousands of city homes, which it sub-let to waste management business Biffa.

Phone calls were made to workers throughout yesterday morning, urging them to attend a 1pm briefing at the company's Whiffler Road depot, Mile Cross.

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By 12.30pm scores of workers were milling around, nervously chatting to each other and waiting for the announcement to begin.

At 12.50pm they were all called into depot with a shutter pulled down.

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And within minutes the news was released - all 153 to be released with immediate effect.

One worker, who did not wish to be named, stormed out of the meeting early.

He said: 'I honestly didn't think we would all be laid off in one go. It's a hell of a shock. There's probably 200 people involved and their families will be affected.

'Who is going to clean Norwich if we are out of a job with immediate effect?'

Leon Pizey, of Gurney Road, New Catton, said he was planning to take out a mortgage on a house after believing the firm could soldier on despite undergoing a difficult time.

But the 22-year-old, who joined as an apprentice four years ago, said: 'They said we are so sorry, the company was put up for re-tendering and no-one was interested, with immediate effect you're all redundant.

'A lot of people saw it coming but they were still shocked. There was one guy who stormed out. Everyone is agreeing that the company has never been straight-forward with us since the beginning.

'When you come to work and put your heart and soul into it and people turn around and say we're not bringing in enough money it's heartbreaking. Our jobs still need to be done - parks need to unlocked, all the gardening needs to be done.'

Another staff member Richard North said both he and his son were now out of work.

Mr North, who has been working at the site for 26 years, said: 'They are not bothered about us at all. Is the council going to do something? The bins are not going to get emptied from now. The council should have left it as City Care. We had the big site, the money, the council behind it and everyone knew everyone.

'I don't know what to say to my son - how do you console someone? You can only do your best. When the company was taken over by the new people we always thought they would promise the world and give us nothing.'

The wife of a tree surgeon, who did not wish to be named, affected by yesterday's news said she was angry with the company and the city council.

She said: 'It's dreadful, absolutely dreadful the company's behaviour and how it's been done. Are they going to train new people or what? We don't know. He doesn't have a clue. I don't know how we will deal with it. There's been no warning whatsoever - Norwich City Council must have known.'

Joanne Pitt said her partner was paid weekly by Fountains and he had been told it was 'unlikely' he will receive payment for last week's work.

She said: 'We are certainly in a very big muddle now and we are both extremely upset. My thoughts are with the families of all the Fountains workers who lost their jobs. One minute you're a worker in the city centre of Norwich, next minute you're whole world comes tumbling down.'

City council bosses said they have been in talks with Biffa, Fountains Group and the administrators about the future of the workers - and to ensure services such as bin collections continue.

Alan Waters, cabinet member for resources at Norwich City Council, said: 'Our absolute priority is that we continue to provide the waste and recycling collections and other important services to our residents.

'As soon as we were told, we went into immediate discussions about how to maintain the waste and recycling contract with Biffa so that people's bins continue to be emptied and their recycling collected.

'We also focused on how to deliver the services Fountains has been providing, such as street cleaning, tree management and grounds maintenance at parks, cemeteries and open spaces in the city.

'We have already spoken to the administrator as a matter of urgency to discuss the continuation of these contracts and what we can do to try and protect local jobs.

'Sadly, this is another major company which has ceased to trade because of the difficult economic conditions and these unforeseen situations are now a financial reality for large organisations like ourselves, especially in the public sector.'

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