Shepton Mallet Cider job row hots up after results

By John Wood

- Last updated on GMT

Unite the union urged C&C Group to reconsider its decision to scale down cider production at Shepton Mallet
Unite the union urged C&C Group to reconsider its decision to scale down cider production at Shepton Mallet

Related tags: Shepton mallet, Somerset, Cider

Shepton Mallet Cider Mill owner C&C Group has been branded “the unacceptable face of capitalism” by Unite the union, after the manufacturer forecast profits of £80.35M (€103M), shortly after news about redundancies at the Somerset cider plant, which it plans to close this summer.

In a trading update Dublin-based C&C Group forecast group operating profit for the year to February 29 would be “in the region of €103M”. ​It added: “Trading in the last quarter of the year provides grounds for optimism and the board is confident in the earnings prospects of the group in FY17.”

The union described the trading update from the group as “another kick in the teeth for a dedicated workforce” ​at the profitable Somerset site.

The Shepton Mallet Cider Mill is due to close in the summer when production, including brands such as Blackthorn and Olde English, ceases and the pulped fruit is transported to Ireland. The first 40 redundancies were announced earlier this month.

‘Insatiable appetite’

Unite regional coordinating officer Steve Preddy said: “The insatiable appetite to build the bottom line is the only consideration in a world, driven by accountants obsessed with only profits, with no care for the company’s wider social responsibilities.

“Ironically, the Shepton Mallet plant is a profitable site and its employees have contributed greatly to the €103M forecast.

“What is happening is the unacceptable face of capitalism – a capitalism that cares nothing for workers’ welfare or the surrounding communities. This multinational business has shown no loyalty or guilt in ending a cider-making heritage stretching back in Shepton Mallet to 1770.”

He called for the group to accelerate its efforts to find a buyer for the site, commenting that as C&C Group was highly profitable it gave it plenty of time to find a buyer and there was no need for a fire sale.

He added: “Any such sale would be greatly assisted if the company agreed to sell the brands, as well as the site itself.

“The brands and the site would make a very attractive package for a potential buyer at this already profitable site with an enthusiastic and dedicated workforce.”

The situation was not sustainable

A spokesman for the C&C Group referred to the statement it made in January, when it announced it was moving production from Borrisoleigh (Ireland) and Shepton Mallet to its plant at Clonmel in Tipperary. The current situation was not sustainable, it said.

At the time the group said: “Current capacity utilisation across the three impacted sites is 34%, constraining C&C’s ability to compete over the longer term. Under the planned configuration, Clonmel will move to a capacity utilisation level of 75%.”

Responding to the trading update, Shore Capital analyst Phil Carroll said: “We come to the conclusion that the C&C investment case is certainly improving but is not without risk.

“The improvement is partly technical and partly self-driven. Downside risk continues to be mitigated to some extent by the share buyback programme and ongoing strong cash generation.”

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