Jobs gloom for town as beds factory closes

A YORKSHIRE town has suffered a “devastating” economic blow as a major employer announced it was axing 200 jobs – only for it to emerge that the chance to create a further 900 had been missed.

Bed and mattress manufacturer Silentnight announced yesterday it was closing its plant in Batley, and consolidating its operations in Barnoldswick, Lancashire.

It is understood, however, that the company approached Kirklees Council weeks ago to explain its plans to consolidate the business into one location, and asked for a suitable site within the area to be found.

The move would have brought in an additional 900 jobs.

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Despite efforts to find potential sites in Kirklees and neighbouring council areas, nowhere large enough could be found, and the business is being moved to Lancashire.

Sources have blamed red tape and restrictions with the local planning framework.

It is understood many at the council are furious at the missed opportunity and have warned major changes to the planning framework will need to be made at a meeting on November 23, or thousands more jobs will be lost.

“We are looking at a bleak future for the economy in Kirklees unless this is resolved on November 23,” one source said. “If changes do not happen, we may as well put up a sign saying Kirklees is closed for business.”

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The chairman of Silentnight, Adrian Fawcett, praised Lancashire County Council for its work in securing the deal.

“We are operating in an extremely tough climate for consumer-facing businesses and Barnoldswick is large enough to potentially absorb the forecast production requirements of both these facilities,” he said. “It is with great regret, therefore, that we are now having to consider the closure of Batley.

“We are extremely grateful to the hard work of all our colleagues at the factory over the years and we will do our upmost to support our people should they have to move on.

“We are, however, very pleased that Barnoldwick will remain at the heart of our business and are delighted that Lancashire County Council has been instrumental in making this happen.”

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The company has entered into a consultation period with employees and trade union officials to discuss the Batley closure. Bosses blamed the “continued decline in the bed market”, where overall UK sales are down by around 30 per cent compared with 2008.

Barnoldswick will now become the main production factory for major brands such as Silentnight, Layezee and Rest Assured while the company will also be developing its sales and support service areas.

In practical terms this will mean significant new investment for the manufacturing business as well as new marketing and trade support jobs for 2012 to support a planned “upgraded range and product portfolio”.

Batley West councillor Shabir Pandor said the news was “devastating” for the area: “The bed trade had been a thriving business in the local economy and they had the infrastructure set up here.

“Jobs are a major issue for us, Batley is an area of high deprivation and to lose 200 skilled workers is a devastating blow.”