Birmingham & Black Country

Premier Foods bakery closure: Garretts Green workers' reaction

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Media captionWorkers have spoken of their devastation, while the firm says the loss of a £75m contract was key to the decision

Residents and politicians in Birmingham have reacted with shock to the news that Premier Foods, the maker of Hovis bread, is to close a bakery with the loss of 500 jobs.

Tim Langsford, who has worked at the bakery for 12 years, said he heard the closure news on the radio.

He said: "I was half expecting it, to be honest, because they've just lost the supermarket order.

"I didn't want it to close but there's nothing you can do about it, really, is there?"

Mr Langsford, who lives in Kingstanding with wife Kayla and their three children, added: "I said to my wife bad time isn't it, just before Christmas.

"The Mrs has got my presents. I haven't got hers."

Mrs Langsford said she thought the chance of her husband getting another job at the age of 53 was "quite slim".

Highest cost

She said: "Last Christmas I actually lost my job, I got made redundant after 15 years at a factory, so it's like history repeating itself."

Myrza Saleem, 44, who has worked at the bakery for 13 years, said he had no idea it was going to close and was "devastated" by the news.

"We knew they were in financial difficulties but we didn't know how bad it was," he said.

Premier Foods is set to lose a £75m-a-year contract with the Co-op from the middle of next year after it was unable to agree a new deal on sufficiently attractive terms.

David Seeckts, head of manufacturing for Hovis in the Midlands, said it had taken the "unfortunate but difficult decision" to close the Birmingham bakery because the significant contract had been lost.

"Birmingham has the lion's share [of the contract] but it's also one of our highest-cost bakeries and those two aspects drove the decision," he said.

He said the company had been at the Birmingham site since 04:30 GMT briefing the workers but is was hard to ensure that all the workforce heard the news in person rather than on the radio.

"Unfortunately, we had to release statements at seven o'clock this morning which made that process quite difficult, particularly for those individuals who weren't actually on shift," he said.

He said the plans were to move production to other sites in the UK, subject to the continuing consultation.

The Unite union has said it is joining with BFAWU, the majority union on the affected sites, to call for urgent talks about the job losses.

A spokesman blamed the "devastating blow for the 900 workers" on Premier Foods' decision to buy Hovis in 2006.

Liberal Democrat MP for Birmingham Yardley John Hemming, whose constituency covers the bakery site, said he had arranged a meeting with Premier Foods later this week.

He said: "I would rather see what we can do to protect people rather than just assume it's going to go ahead as planned.

"I can't promise that I can stop it from happening, but I'm going to try."

'Absolutely gutted'

Paul Tilsley, the Liberal Democrat city councillor for the Sheldon ward, said he knew the company was undergoing "massive restructuring" but the loss of 511 jobs in the city was a shock.

Image caption The company said Birmingham is one of its highest-cost bakeries

Mr Tilsley, whose ward includes Garretts Green, said: "I have just heard the news. Obviously, it's a great disappointment to be losing 500 jobs in Birmingham when we've already got high unemployment."

He said he knew Premier Foods had sold brands as part of a major reorganisation but said he did not expect this news.

"To lose the Hovis brand from Birmingham is a great, great disappointment," he said.

The Birmingham site, in Granby Avenue, Garretts Green, was built in 1964 and as well as bread it produces so-called "morning goods", such as bread rolls, scones and pancakes.

As well as Hovis-branded bread, it produces loaves for supermarket own-brand ranges.

Local resident Dave Rickus said he was "absolutely gutted" at the news.

"When I was a kid I had a Saturday job working on the back of a baker's van, and when I first left school if you needed a job you went to the bakery.

"It's part of the area - when you wake up in the morning you can smell the bread being baked."

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