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GMB Call on Britvic Independent Directors to Intervene in Closure of Robinsons Factory in Norwich

Friday, November 3, 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." 
 
ENDS 
 
Contact: Ivan Mercer 07713 077194 
 
Notes to editors: 
 
1) 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". 
 
CONCERNS WITH COMPANY DECISION 
 
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. 
 
CONCERNS WITH PROCESS 
 
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. 
 

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