South Tyneside’s sadness as ‘iconic’ factory announces planned closure with the loss of 220 jobs

Essentra, Bede Industrial Estate
Essentra, Bede Industrial Estate

South Tyneside has reacted with dismay at the news more than 200 jobs are to go at an “iconic” factory.

Essentra, a global filter product provider for the tobacco industry, told workers yesterday that it has launched a bid to close the firm’s site on Bede Industrial Estate, in Jarrow – with manufacturing being moved to Hungary.

It is heartwrenching for the area.

Stephen Hepburn

The company, which has has been a major South Tyneside employer since the 1940s, says the move follows a review of its global business practices.

Essentra say that a decline in cigarette sales in Western Europe has led to many of its suppliers moving to Central and Eastern Europe – with Essentra now set to follow suit.

Management have begun a 45-day consultation process over the proposals, which would see the site shut its doors for the final time before the end of the year, with 220 jobs set to go.

The company’s smokeless nicotine device and analytical testing site – as well as the learning centre – in Shaftesbury Avenue, Jarrow, will be unaffected by the proposal.

Essentra says it plans to create 10 new positions at the Shaftesbury Avenue site – which was set up last year – for workers affected by the closure, as an alternative to redundancy.

The workforce were sent home for the day following the announcement, with representatives from the Unite and GMB unions meeting with the company to discuss the closure process yesterday afternoon.

A worker said: “It is a huge blow for the area. We had been expecting redundancies but it was a massive shock to hear the whole factory would be closed. Many people have fixed-term contracts and we will have to see what will happen.

“It is a real kick in the teeth for the workforce.”

Jarrow MP Stephen Hepburn says he is “gutted” by the closure of the factory.

He said: “I am gutted. Generations of families in Jarrow have worked there. It is an iconic feature on the Jarrow industrial landscape. It is such a sad loss to this area.

“Obviously, my thoughts go out to the employees who will be made redundant. It is tragic for them. There is little or anything else in terms of viable alternative employment out there.”

Keir Howe, regional organiser for the GMB union, said: “We are devastated by the announcement to close the site. We will do everything we can to mitigate the impact on our members. Our thoughts are with the employees and their families.

“We expect Essentra to pursue every available avenue to keep the factory open.”

Councillor John Anglin, lead member for regeneration and economy for South Tyneside Council, said: “This announcement is a devastating blow to the workforce and to South Tyneside.

“Essentra is a manufacturing firm with a highly-skilled local workforce and it is extremely disappointing to see such a high number of local jobs at risk.

“We are doing all we can to support local businesses and boost economic growth and the council’s business, employment and skills team will be working with Essentra and Jobcentre Plus to make sure all the necessary support is available to ensure all those employees affected receive as much help and advice as possible.”

Hugh Ross, managing director for Essentra Europe, said: “Over the past ten years, cigarette sales volume in Western Europe has declined by almost 30%, with the tobacco companies supplied by Essentra responding to this trend by relocating their own manufacturing footprint to Central and Eastern Europe.

“Indeed, only a tiny percentage of the current filter production at our Jarrow facility is destined for the domestic UK market.

“Having manufactured filters here since the 1940s, it is with regret that we are entering this consultation process.

“The possible closure of the Jarrow site is in no way a reflection on the quality or commitment of our employees.

“Rather, the proposed transfer of activities will help to underpin the company’s long-term position as the leading global independent supplier of filter products and related services to the tobacco industry.”

Union boss warned of overseas switch

Concerns over production at the cigarette components firm being switched overseas were first voiced by a union boss six years ago.

The company’s workforce was slashed in 2009, when 233 job cuts were announced due to a fall in cigarette consumumption across western Europe and the United States.

At the time, Unite union regional officer Brian Cole said the cutbacks were part of a bid to use ‘cheap, foreign labour’.

He said: “It is our opinion this is all about outsourcing this work to Hungary because it’s cheaper, and not because of a fall in cigarette consumption across Europe or north America.

“This is all about downsizing the Jarrow plant, and we feel this will impact on the pay and conditions of those workers who will be left.”

In its various guises, the company has been a firm fixture in the borough for decades. The firm was established in Jarrow in the 1948 as the fibres division of Austrian business Bunzl, under the title of Cigarette Components.

In 1997, the firm completed the purchase of the American filter technology specialiasts, Filtrona Corporation.

The Filtrona name was then adopted for the Jarrow factory – also lending its name to the home stadium of South Shields Football Club. In June 2013, Filtrona announced that it would rebrand as Essentra plc.