Monday, March 30, 2009

Stairlift factory closes with loss of 80 jobs

This article appears on the website.

A NORTH-EAST factory which makes stairlifts is to close with the loss of 80 jobs, it was revealed last night.

The revelation that the Bison Bede plant, in Consett, County Durham will cease production with immediate effect was said to be a “massive blow” for Derwentside and the wider North-East manufacturing sector.

The decision was announced yesterday by Bison Bede’s parent company Acorn Stairlifts, after a 30-day consultation period. Although the plant has a forward order book of about £1.4m, work which will now be distributed around other factories in the Acorn group.

The move comes despite efforts from the GMB union and constituency MP Hilary Armstrong to preserve employment in the area.

Last night, the 80 workers at the plant were made redundant, although it is understood there are 20 jobs on offer at Acorn’s plant in Scotland, with workers being offered bus transport back to the North-East on weekends. It was unclear how many workers had opted to take up the proposal.

The factory has been a key employer in Consett since 1981, at its peak employing about 200 people at its base on the town’s Number 1 Industrial Estate. Its offers a range of stairlifts and mobility products, designed to aid independent living at home.

Gail Johnson, regional organiser for the GMB, said yesterday’s decision comes as a blow to the area, adding: “We’ve been in consultation for 30 days, but it is a blow to learn the plant is definitely going to close. It has been really successful and has orders for about £1.4m for this year, but that work is now going to be given to other factories outside the North-East.

“We understand that’s because there’s more space at the other sites. This area is being massively hit by job losses, and these are more jobs going that Derwentside can ill afford.”

No one from parent company Acorn Mobility was available for comment last night.

Bison Bede was acquired by Acorn, a rival stairlift manufacturer, in November 2007, although there were no changes made to the Consett operation.

Previously, the company affirmed its commitment to the North-East by revealing it had rejected options to relocate to Korea, and invested £1m in manufacturing equipment at the plant.