Lights out for candle factory in Barrow - 150 jobs lost

THE Cumbria business community has been reacting to news that a Barrow candle factory is to close, with the loss of around 150 jobs.

Staff at PartyLite in Barrow were yesterday said to be devastated, with only a handful expecting the closure.

The factory, at Sandscale Park, off Park Road, has around 125 permanent staff, 25 temps and six agency staff.

The decision was revealed to staff yesterday and a statement was posted on the website of the US parent company, Blyth Inc.

No closure dates have been made public, but it is understood the Barrow factory will close by March 27, with a full site closure by April 26.

One employee told the Evening Mail that some staff were disappointed at how matters had been handled by the company.

Last month, Blyth Inc announced plans to build a new "global centre of excellence", which would be responsible for producing all its candle products globally.

PartyLite has two candle manufacturing sites - one in Barrow and another near Chicago in the USA.Yesterday, the firm announced the new factory will be built in the US and the Barrow base will close.

Jeff Wall, manufacturing director in Barrow, said he could only confirm the closure and could not comment further.

A statement said: "Blyth Inc has announced that its PartyLite division, the world's largest direct-seller of candles, candle accessories and premium home fragrance products, will create a global centre of excellence in Batavia, Illinois, for all candle manufacturing and development worldwide and will shut down its manufacturing facility in Cumbria, UK."

The decision was reached after a "comprehensive evaluation" of the two manufacturing facilities. The project will start early this year and achieve a $2m, or £1,316,839, "asset write-down" in Barrow.

Blyth said the decision will make total annual savings of $8m, or £5,265,463. That equates to $40m, or £26,331,192 over the next five years, and one-time and transitional costs of around $6m, or £3,949,756.

Steve Forbes, Barrow GMB official, said the union had around 10 members employed at PartyLite. He said: "It's not good news for any of the workers, but we will work with the management on behalf of our members to try and make it as smooth as possible. But obviously, it's a bad time for everybody concerned."

Robert B Goergen Jr, chief executive officer of Blyth and president of PartyLite Worldwide said: "The global centre of excellence in Batavia will represent a significant investment in a state-of-the-art, global manufacturing complex with advanced process control systems and unrivaled quality.

"Having one facility worldwide will allow for a concentration of the company's candle-making expertise and the establishment of a single centre for global innovation, research and development."

Expansion had been on the cards in Barrow, as Blyth Inc announced it would make a £1m investment with the construction of a new storage facility, to be built alongside the existing 9,400sqm factory. The design phase was complete, ready for construction phase.

Rob Johnston, chief executive of Cumbria Chamber of Commerce, said those behind a bid to save the jobs in Barrow were 'taken aback' by the announcement.

Mr Johnston said: "Sadly this outcome is often the case when you have a foreign-owned company that's managing a situation of decline - they generally shrink back to where their boardroom is.

"The Partylite team here in Cumbria has been working hard with ourselves at Cumbria Chamber of Commerce to put a turnaround plan to their American owners.

"And I'd like to take this opportunity to recognise the tremendous effort put in by the Partylite team in reviewing the business cost base and coming up with a robust and sustainable plan for the future which came close to succeeding in keeping the business here.

"This is not the outcome we wanted, or expected. The decision is no reflection on the Partylite Cumbria team or on 'team Cumbria'.

"Ourselves at Cumbria Chamber of Commerce, Cumbria County Council and the Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership, through a funding package, put a very substantial offer together to support the plans.

"Everyone is taken aback that this has been the outcome.

"Cumbrian partners are commited to helping businesses facing this sort of situation and I'd urge any such business to get in touch at the earliest opportunity.

"Clearly the outcome in this case is a sad one but it isn't always the case and we have as a partnership had some significant successes to date.

"This decision reinforces the importance to our economy of home grown businesses."

Clive Peaple, Lib Dem candidate for Barrow and Furness in the upcoming general election, said: "Our thoughts will be with the around 150 redundancies at Barrow which have come about despite the strenuous efforts of PartyLite, the GMB and the Cumbria Chamber of Commerce.

"There will be an asset write down and large annual savings to the parent company in the USA, which will feel obliged to look at bottom lines in a situation of market decline.

"Inward investment is vital to Furness, and we are doing superbly well in attracting such investment. Companies have seen in the area a delightful environment with good infrastructure and some careful planning, not least in housing.

"Many of our 'apprentice' firms are huge and forward looking concerns, with sustainable development plans.

"Sustainable 'green' industries are offering us great opportunities. It is this type of sustainable enterprise which will provide a long term promising future for the area, avoiding the perils of asset 'relocation'.

"Our thoughts are with the staff at Partylite. There's hope that this kind of event will become increasingly rare in Furness."

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