Twinings is consolidating its UK tea production facilities in Andover, Hampshire, with 129 jobs set to go at this site next spring, while the firm’s facility in North Shields faces closure in September 2011 with the loss of 263 jobs.
The cuts follow a decision to transfer operations to a new €45m (£37.7m) factory in Poland and expand a Chinese site.
Taylor’s predecessor as Green Party MEP for Hampshire and Southeast England, Caroline Lucas, originally wrote to the European Commission (EC) on March 25 about her concerns over job losses at the Hampshire site.
She asked whether Twinings or parent firm Associated British Foods (ABF) “are, or will be, in receipt of EU funding for the building of a new factory in Swarzedz [Poland]”
On May 28 the EC replied that it was seeking “formal guarantees” from Polish authorities that Twinings was not using EU funds as a share of €10,400,439 (£8.03m) to invest in the site for the “relocation of production or service facilities” .
ERDF (European Regional Development Fund) grants, which must concern new investments, are forbidden in such circumstances, which raise the worry of Twinings’ UK workers effectively subsidising their own unemployment as UK/EU taxpayers.
British government investigates
Taylor wrote to the EC on September 21 pressing the commission for a further, promised response to Lucas’ question, a move which closely shadowed the British government's recent decision to quiz Polish counterparts on the same issue.
“Ms Lucas’ motivation for writing was her concern that EU grants made to Poland were being used specifically to encourage businesses such as Twinings to relocate there from other member states. I share this concern,” wrote Taylor.
“The Commission then committed itself [in the May 28 reply to Lucas] to seeking formal guarantees from the Polish authorities that EU support for the subsidiary of R.Twining and Company will not be used in this way.
“I would be very grateful if you could let me know whether this guarantee has been obtained, and where the process is now (as of May 28 the project had been accepted but not yet signed).
“If a guarantee has not been obtained, [then] I would be grateful if you could let me know why this is the case.”
Twinings sales success
Reflecting on the grant, Derek Kotz from Andover Trade Union Congress (TUC) told FoodManufacture.co.uk in late September: “The full contract for the funding award hasn’t been signed yet, but that’s hardly surprising given the...Commission involvement.”
The news come against a backdrop of "encouraging progress” for Twinings Ovaltine in ABF’s 12-month trading update for the year to September 18 2010.
It said:“Twinings Ovaltine maintained the sales and profit growth achieved in the first half with particularly encouraging progress…in North America and the UK.”
Given this success, some trade unionists claim that the Polish move stems from greed rather than necessity, although Twinings denies the initial decision was anything to do with a grant; instead emphasising the need for closeness to key continental markets.