Unions urge govt to probe "disgraceful" Twinings fund

By Ben Bouckley

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Twinings Trade union European union Trades union congress

Twinings Tea
Twinings Tea
The Trades Union Congress has written to business secretary Vince Cable asking him to investigate whether Twinings received EU funds to “relocate” production from the UK to a new Polish factory, given that UK jobs could be lost as a result.

Andover Trade Union Congress (TUC) secretary Derek Kotz said: "We need our own government to ensure that UK jobs are protected and we have asked the relevant ministers and our own MP to investigate."

As revealed by FoodManufacture.co.uk in mid-July, the EU Commission wrote to Polish authorities​ in late May asking them to provide “formal guarantees”​ that Twinings’ Polish subsidiary was not using EU funds for relocation to a new facility in Swardedz.

Workers at factories in Andover (129) and South Shields (260) will lose their jobs through phased redundancies from February 2011 as a result of the move, and union bosses are angry that staff may be funding their own job losses as UK/EU taxpayers.

Union anger

Kotz said: “The rules are quite clear that grants are available for new investment, but not for relocation, and Twinings is quite clearly relocating, at the cost of 129 jobs in Andover and more than 260 in North Shields.

"It is shabby enough that a highly profitable company is planning to ditch a loyal and award-winning workforce, but to do so using British taxpayers' money would be shameful and almost certainly unlawful abuse."

 Mike Parsonage, Andover USDAW, told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “Last week I wrote to our general secretary asking about the best way to proceed, especially as regards using our sponsored MPs.”

“I’m waiting with bated breath to see what the Commission says – but it’s disgraceful if the substance of this is true.”

Asked what he thought the TUC hoped to achieve by writing to Vince Cable, Europe minister George Young and Andover MP George Young he added: “The key issue from a union viewpoint is to raise public awareness of a possible issue here and pressurise the Commission to conclude its enquiry quickly.”

A Twinings spokeswoman said: "It is important to emphasise that our business case for setting up a new factory in Poland was not based on receiving any external funding.

"Following the selection of a suitable location for the factory in Swarzedz, Poznan, we applied, through our legal entity in Poland, to the Polish Ministry for a grant under the Operational Programme, Innovative Economy, measure 4.5.1 (OPIE).​" 

The application was made because Twinings considered that the business plans satisfied the relevant criteria, said the spokeswoman. However, the decision on eligibility was determined by the Polish authorities, she added.

"The OPIE grant would provide financial support for Twinings’ investment in the latest technology and in Research and Development. This would include investment in an innovative, original combination of technologies of blending and packing premium quality tea.

"Streamlining solutions introduced to the manufacturing process will enable us to offer Twinings teas with improved quality, functions and aesthetic features to our mainland European customers.

The initial confirmation of the OPIE grant was received on 1st April 2010; however, no formal agreement has been finalised."

Commission investigates

Evidence that Twinings’ Polish subsidiary is receiving EU cash to fund its new facility in Swarzedz first appears in a written reply from the Commission to a letter sent by former Southeast England MEP Caroline Lucas.

Lucas, who is now Green Party MP for Brighton, wrote to the EU Commission on March 25 asking whether Twinings or its parent company ABF: “are, or will be, in receipt of EU funding for the building of a new factory in Swarzedz.”

The Commission’s response on May 28 stated that Twinings’ Polish subsidiary had applied for funding through the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) under its ‘Innovative Economy’ programme.​ As a result the Commission was seeking “formal guarantees” ​from Polish authorities that funds are not being used inappropriately for relocation. 

For more details on the Commission’s response and union concerns click here​.

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