GMB disappointed by Britvic directors disregard of Norwich factory closure

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GMB disappointed by Britvic directors disregard of Norwich factory closure

GMB, Unite and members of the Norwich community will no doubt share the disappointment at the Independent Directors failure to show any leadership on this critical issue says GMB London

GMB are disappointed by Britvic directors disregard of the proposed closure of the Robinsons Factory site in Norwich which will cost 300 direct and indirect jobs. [see notes to editors for copy of letter received from Britvic]

Ivan Mercer, GMB Regional Organiser, said,

“The fact that it has taken three weeks for the reply to be delivered to GMB in an envelope with no postage, clearly shows two things: firstly how little regard the Independent Directors have for Norwich, it’s community and the Britvic workers, whose jobs are under threat and secondly the extent of the cost cutting within Britvic that it could not even afford a stamp to send the reply.

“You collectively sit on the Board of a Company that purports to build trust in communities, yet none of the Independent Directors have the courage to attend a community meeting to hear directly from those affected by the proposals you have collectively endorsed.

“The joint unions specifically requested this because of the manner in which the Company Management has conducted the process to date, and so that the Independent Directors could hear firsthand, not from Management, about the impact of the proposals that will cost 300 directly and indirectly employed workers, and destroy the Robinsons legacy in Norwich.

“To reinforce our scepticism of Management and their conduct to date, no one from the Company has contacted the joint unions in respect of the points raised in our previous correspondence, despite the request to ‘respond directly’ to us as outlined in your reply.

“It is difficult to come to any other conclusion than the Board is both unable and unwilling to stand by the decision in public, and that the timing of your reply was deliberately calculated to coincide with the closure of the consultation.

“GMB, Unite and members of the Norwich community will no doubt share the disappointment at the Independent Directors failure to show any leadership on this critical issue, and we trust you remember your collective failure to show leadership when you’re enjoying the Robinsons hospitality at Wimbledon.

“There is still time for the Company to seek to work jointly with the unions to seek a compromise that would save Norwich and deliver savings, perhaps not of the magnitude desired, but still significant in their own right and worthy of appropriate consideration, especially taking into account the community impact and legacy of Robinsons.

“The offer still remains and we look forward to hearing from the Independent Directors further.”

Contact: Ivan Mercer 07713 077194

Notes to editors:

1) Letter to GMB from Britvic Independent director Ian McHoul, 13 November 2017

Thank you for your letter dated 1 November 2017 referring to the current consultation which Britvic PLC (the “Company”) is currently undertaking in relation to the proposal to close its Norwich site.

I understand that other Non-Executive directors of the Company have received letters ini the same form, and that you have corresponded in similar terms with the team managing the consultation process.

Please accept my response as being sent on behalf of all the Non-Executive Directors. We recognise what a difficult time this must be for the employees at the Norwich site. We have full confidence that the management team are handling the process appropriately and we have asked them to consider your points and respond to you directly. We have asked to be kept updated on the progress of the consultation and on the Company’s engagement with you on this topic.

Your sincerely

Ian McHoul

Senior Independent Director

2) GMB press release 3 November 2017

The Company need to pause, reflect and listen to the concerns of the workers and local community says GMB London
GMB and Unite the Union have written to the Independent directors of Britvic plc and copied to the company calling on them to meet community and workforce representatives and halt the proposed closure of the Norwich site. [see notes to
editors for copy of the letter]
The Unions want the Independent Directors to hear first hand from workers and the community their concerns for jobs in their community and the local economy.

Robinsons has been produced in Norwich for 92 years and is worth £38M in goodwill to Britvic and - along with Colemans - is synonymous with Norwich.

The Unions have raised a number of concerns about the consultation process, many of which remain unanswered, and have asked for them to be raised in Parliament as well.
The letter has been sent to Ian McHoul, Senior Independent Director and Independent non-executive directors Sue Clark, Ben Gordon and Euan Sutherland.
Ivan Mercer, GMB Regional Organiser, said,
"The Company need to pause, reflect and listen to the concerns of the workers and local community.

"Thousands of people have signed petitions to keep Robinsons in Norwich and this cannot just be ignored. Questions have been raised by the local MP, Council and in Parliament.

"There is a strong feeling that this process is being rushed, and that there has not been any meaningful consultation with the workforce or their Consultative Group.

"The Company have admitted to withholding from the Consultative Group a key report into the site operations. They have also taken more than 4 weeks just to share critical financial information with the Consultative Group.

"Members at the factory are concerned that there are a number of conflicting answers to simple questions, and they fear the consultation will be closed the Friday before the Company Annual Results are released on the Monday.

"The Unions are amazed that Britvic are prepared to throw away the legacy of Robinsons to save, at best, 1% of their annual turnover, before taking into account the likely loss of goodwill assets."
Unite national officer for food and drink, Julia Long said:
"Britvic needs to come forward with full answers to our members’ concerns about the reasoning for the closure proposal – it should not be forgotten that 240 jobs are at stake.
"There has been no meaningful consultation by the company to date, even though the announcement was made on 3 October. Unite has very serious concerns that the legal process is not being followed in an open and transparent manner, hence the letter to the independent directors. The company bosses need to talk to the unions, the workforce and the local community.
"Our membership deserve better than this from a company for whom they have worked hard to earn good profits for Britvic over many years. We are going to campaign strongly so that Britvic remains in Norwich and the closure proposal is reversed. Norwich can ill-afford to lose this number of jobs."
2) Copy of letter sent on 2 November 2017 to
Ian McHoul - currently Chief Financial Officer of Amec Foster Wheeler plc
Sue Clark - currently a non-executive director of Tulchan Communications and of Bakkavor Group plc
Ben Gordon - currently a non-executive director of St. Ives plc
Euan Sutherland - currently CEO of SuperGroup plc
GMB and Unite the Union are writing to you, on behalf of our members employed at Norwich Britvic, in your capacity as an independent director of the Britvic Board to convey  our deep concerns at both the Company’s decision to propose the closure of the Britvic Norwich site and the subsequent "consultation process".
Our members and other community representatives have expressed anger and disappointment at the Company’s decision to propose the closure of operations at Norwich.
There is a strong tradition and rich history in Norwich of food manufacturers caring for and acting as benefactors toward the local community.
The legacy and goodwill that Britvic acquired, and has benefitted from over the years, is worth, according to the Company’s most recent corporate filings, over £38M alone (62% of Britvic GB Goodwill).
Our members remain both skeptical and unclear as to the rationale for the proposal, other than a very nebulous potential savings figure – between £11-14M – and potential reduction in carbon emissions and road miles.
What our members find difficult to comprehend is that the Norwich is exceptionally profitable and a very reliable production location that is presently under-utilised.
We are therefore requesting a meeting with you, the other independent directors and local community and workforce representatives, so you can hear their concerns directly.
We are calling on the independent directors to take this step precisely because of your independence, and because there are real concerns that existing directors and senior management may have a potential fiduciary interest in closing the site through consequential personal performance plans and incentives linked to the "20% by 2020" target.
In addition we wish to raise our concerns at the manner in which Company Management have taken this process forward.
We are more than halfway through the "consultation" and only this week did the Company seek to share any detailed financial information with the Consultative Group.
The Company presumably submitted to the Board a fully detailed and costed proposal resulting in the decision to propose closure, yet despite having that information to hand it is only following a meeting with GMB that the Company has sought to share more details than simply stating:
"Broadly the savings are in two halve, 50% being achieved through logistics…and 50% …by saving fixed costs of running the Norwich Production Unit".
In addition the Company has acknowledged that it conducted a comprehensive review into operational efficiencies that underpinned this decision but has so far failed to supply the Consultative Group with a copy, and when questioned as to why, was unable to provide an answer.
Finally it is supplying the workforce with exceptionally confusing, if not misleading answers in the Q&A, for example claiming that asset sales, again presumably including all plant, land and machinery, have been included in the fixed costs savings of £5.5-7M, but then in response to another question claiming that it has not had the land valued.
We understand if these issues may seem trivial to you but they are about respect for the workforce, and only serve to reinforce perceptions that there is no real desire to meaningfully consult or consider alternative proposals.
In the latter case we are acutely aware that the Consultative Group is not in a position to submit fully costed alternatives if they are unaware of the cost and savings framework applied by the Company.
For these reasons we would like to meet to discuss these issues, but perhaps more importantly our members’ vision for food and drink manufacturing in Norwich and how that involves Britvic. In the interim we have requested the Company take a moment to pause and reflect on the situation, a proposal that we would like to petition the independent directors to also support.
GMB and Unite members look forward to your response.