200 jobs at risk as firm hints at factory closure

UP to 220 jobs were in jeopardy last night after beds and furniture group Silentnight announced it was considering closing its Keighley factory in West Yorkshire.

The group blamed tough market conditions and recent expansion for the decision about the 20-year-old cabinet manufacturing site in Dalton Lane, Keighley.

Production is set to move to Sunderland, where Silentnight has invested 6.5m over the past two years.

Chief executive Bill Simpson said: “We have more capacity at Sunderland than we have orders. The growth that we expected has just not happened.”

Silentnight employs 5,000 people in Britain, half of its revenue coming from its traditional beds business.

Mr Simpson said some of the staff facing unemployment at Keighley could be employed at one of the bed division’s major sites 20 miles away. The group employs 800 people at the plant in Barnoldswick, and is recruiting for more staff to work at the site.

“We are already bussing people in from Keighley to Barnoldswick. There are other opportunities for some of these people,” Mr Simpson said.

Keighley MP Ann Cryer described the move as a blow for Keighley and said she hoped to ensure that advice from the employment service was readily available to everyone affected.

Mrs Cryer said: “It always seems to be in the nature of a small town like Keighley that they decide to keep the bigger operations and close the smaller one. I am very hopeful that many of the people involved will be relocated.”

The group human resources director at the Keighley site, John Edwards, said a 90-day consultation exercise was now under way.

He added: “There will be a team of people briefed to sit down with every individual employee and we will also be putting it to the joint consultative committee. No decision has yet been taken and if a decision to close is taken, we will do all we can to relocate as many employees as possible.”

The firm hit the headlines in the mid-1980s when hundreds of workers staged a summer-long strike in protest over pay and ultimately lost their jobs. Almost 350 workers from both the Keighley and Barnoldswick sites began strike action in June 1985 over redundancies and pay.

The union claimed that workers had agreed in January that year not to press for a pay rise if the company made no more redundancies, but 52 workers lost their jobs eight weeks later.

When the company refused to meet pay demands, workers began a go-slow, but when 200 members of the union were suspended, the rest of the members went out on strike.

The move resulted in all 346 strikers getting the sack for refusing to return to work at the end of July.

Last night, the company said that while Silentnight’s bed business had remained strong, the furniture division slipped into the red in the first half of the group’s financial year. Problems in Cornwell Parker, a group bought in 2000, and production problems at its pine furniture arm Ducal sparked the fall.

The group said it now expects pre-tax profits for the year to April 18 to be no less than 11.5m. It warned in October that profits in the second half would not be “materially greater” than the first, at 5.4m.