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Wirral Borough Council offered Burton's £450,000 not to crunch biscuit plant

By Anne Bruce and Ben Bouckley , 27-May-2011

Wirral Borough Council says it ''left no stone unturned'' in trying to persuade Burton’s Foods not to close its Moreton biscuit factory, and even offered the company a £450,000 grant as a sweetener.

Burton’s announced last week that it would close the factory on December 2, with 219 jobs set to be lost, following a consultation period.

Wirral Council Leader, councillor Jeff Green said: "We made an offer of £450,000, the maximum allowed under EU State Aid limits, to the company directors towards the capital costs of any project that would save these valuable jobs.”

A spokeswoman told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “They turned down our offer and seemed dead set on taking this decision.”

Local MP Angela Eagle last week slammed Burton's Foods as "disloyal", after it announced that it was going ahead with plans to close the facility, moving production to its other sites in Edinburgh and Llantarnum.

Chocolate refining investment

Burton’s Foods agreed to proposals made by trade union Unite during the consultation period that will save its chocolate refining operation at Moreton, agreeing to retain 51 staff on the chocolate-refining side of the business and plans to invest £2.8m in that operation.

The union had also proposed to retain a seasonal biscuit assortment packing operation at the site, but Burton’s Foods rejected this plan, which it said was commercially unviable.

Instead, the packing will be outsourced to DHL resulting in a proposed TUPE (Transfer of Undertakings, Protection of Employment) transfer of up to 58 staff to the logistics giant's Liverpool site.

Unite regional officer Ritchie James said the union's failure to save the whole site and the 219 jobs was "disappointing and upsetting". "We believe we got the best possible outcome for our members in terms of sustainable jobs and enhanced terms for those being made redundant.

"The ... capital investment into the plant will future proof job security for as long as can reasonably be expected. And a further 58 possible Tupe posts for those workers wishing to transfer to the new Liverpool site.

“It is our aim now to work with Wirral Borough Council to develop the site and create new job opportunities for a fantastic workforce."

Sell on the site?

But Eagle said that many of the packing staff would not be able to get to the DHL packing site 20 miles away, and that the move was "not a viable option in their circumstances".

She added: "The best thing the company can do, given what it has done to the local community, is to sell the site on for industrial use at a generous price in the hope that new jobs will be created in the area. We do not want to see a housing development."

Stressing cost pressures and the need to operate more efficiently, Burton’s Foods ceo Ben Clarke told FoodManufacture.co.uk in mid January that Moreton was the firm's "smallest site with the highest cost base, which is why we have chosen it [for closure].”

Burton's, which makes Maryland Cookies, Jammie Dodgers, Wagon Wheels and own-label biscuits, plus Cadbury-branded products under licence, is owned by Apollo Global Management, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and private equity firm Duke Street Capital.

The latter company bought Burton's in 2007 (our photo dates from the time of this acquisition) but now only holds a minority stake.

Headquarters in St Alban's, Burton's has four UK factories in Blackpool, Moreton, Edinburgh and Llantarnum.

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