THE battle to save 650 jobs at Avana Bakeries in Rogerstone is not over, politicians insist, despite the loss of a major Marks and Spencer cakes contract.
But those pledging to help try to save jobs at the Wern industrial estate site warn that it would be wrong to raise false hopes for employees whose jobs are in jeopardy.
Avana’s parent company 2 Sisters Food Group announced on Friday that the loss of the contract will remove 85 per cent of the site’s business. It has begun a 45-day consultation process during which “all options for the future will be explored”.
UK and Welsh Governments have pledged to help, and cross-party support is being raised for that battle.
Newport West MP Paul Flynn said he hopes there will be “a lot of activity” on the matter this week, and that 2 Sisters Food group and M&S have been approached.
“What is heartening is that Labour and Conservative MPs and AMs, both governments, and the council, are involved,” said Mr Flynn.
“The last thing anyone wants is to raise false hopes, and the situation looks pretty bleak. But we must do all we can, and I hope the loyalty of that workforce can be rewarded.”
Attracting new contracts to try to fill at least some of the huge void left by the M&S pull-out appears the only hope, and Mr Flynn warned that “it seems unlikely M&S will change its mind”.
“There is no disguising it is a very serious blow,” he said.
South Wales East Conservative AM William Graham has offered to meet Avana’s management to offer support, as has the Wales Office – minister Stephen Crabb said the threat to jobs is a “huge concern” for Newport and the staff and families affected.
Plaid Cymru’s South Wales East AM Jocelyn Davies’ thoughts are with the hundreds of Avana staff facing uncertain futures.
That such a situation could arise through the firm losing one major contract demonstrates, she said, the influence that supermarkets have over the Welsh food sector.
“The Welsh Government should work to ensure that we have a stronger and more resilient food supply chain,” she added.
In Rogerstone, the mood is downbeat. Andrew Cooksey, 61, who runs an autism consultancy said if a major employer closes, it has a negative effect on small traders.
“People haven’t got the money to spend, simple as that. I just hope these jobs can be saved. I don’t want to see anybody out of work, people with children, rent or mortgages to pay,” he said.
“It’s very sad, because Rogerstone is a vibrant area. Newport has struggled with jobs in the private sector and the bakery is a very important cog in the local economy.
“When you’re talking 500 or 600 jobs, it’s not rocket science. Take these kind of jobs out of the local economy and people are going to struggle.
“I have got friends that work there. I run a business, not on that scale, but I have got a question mark over any company that places 85 per cent of work with one supplier. If things go wrong with contracts and supply it’s a bit of a problem.”
Paul Williams, who has run The Bread Basket corner shop on The Uplands for 25 years, said: “There could be a lot of people out of work. It’s going to affect trade. People come from Avana to buy sandwiches and things.
“Business here has gone up and down, but it’s going down and down at the moment. This could make it quite quiet really.”
Retraining ‘will be vital’ if site closes
NEWS of potential job losses at Avana brought a glum end to a week in which Newport received a major financial shot in the arm to try to help kickstart its own economic recovery.
The £15 million of funding from the Welsh Government’s Vibrant and Viable Places programme will be targeted at creating and upgrading several hundred inner-city homes in projects that the city council hopes will create up to 600 jobs.
There is also Welsh Government money to fund feasibility studies into proposals contained in the ReNewport taskforce report, such as a software university, an ‘incubator’ scheme for small and medium-sized firms, and an innovation company.
Rogerstone ward councillor Chris Evans said if jobs are eventually lost at Avana, then retraining opportunities for former employees will be vital.
ReNewport proposals for helping regenerate the city and creating high tech skills and jobs would have a big role to play, he added.
“I believe governments and councils will be judged in future by the amount of private sector – not public sector – jobs they help create,” he said.
“Market forces can sometimes be cruel and we are feeling that in Rogerstone and Newport at the moment.
“But we must dust ourselves down.”