Saturday, November 06, 2010

It started in Westminster

It was actually announced a year ago in The Guardian, when the problem was said to be that Britons had lost their taste for premium priced teas and that the company, Associated British Foods, were experiencing a fall in demand for aromatic teas such as Lady Grey and Lemon Grove.

The BBC picked it up at the time, but said nothing about the jobs going to Poland and China, even though the company had said that it was to double the size of its Chinese factory to serve the Asian and US markets and build a new factory in Poland to cater for all other global markets.

ABF said the changes were "a necessary step which will allow Twinings to remain competitive" and that it made no sense to import tea from China, package it in the UK and then export it back to the Far East.

A union-inspired campaign started gathering momentum last January and, in February, with an election in the offing, we had North Tyneside MP, Stephen Byers, declare: "The proposed closure of this plant must be resisted. We simply cannot afford to lose this number of jobs." He went on:
Twinings trades as the quintessentially British tea company, but if it is prepared to sacrifice the bulk of its UK workforce simply to increase its profit margins that reputation will be exposed as a sham. These jobs are vitally important to the town and its economy, just as they are in North Shields, and we would urge everyone to let Twinings know that these cuts should be reversed.
As time went on, and the scale of this project became clearer, it emerged that the EU was offering €12 million to support the building of the €45m factory in Poland. And now – a year after the first announcement - The Daily Mail has picked up the story.

Too late to affect the scheme, the paper reports that, to add insult to injury, workers at the plant in North Shields have been asked to train their Polish replacements before they leave their posts – having paid with their taxes to have their jobs transferred. And Stephen Hughes, the Labour MEP in the North-East, is "demanding" that the EU grant is withdrawn.

Chances are this would have happened anyway but, now we have EU money involved, we all have someone to blame and can feel so much better for having identified the real villain.

But the fact is that the people who will walk away from this will be the MPs, including Stephen Byers, who can do absolutely nothing about how a huge tranche of our tax money is spent, even when it is used to send jobs abroad. If there is a sell-out, it started in Westminster and that is where the blame resides.