Suffolk presence of one of the county's biggest employers is at stake in Brexit negotiations
PUBLISHED: 14:15 16 November 2018 | UPDATED: 14:15 16 November 2018
A multinational company which employs around 600 people in Glemsford could relocate out of the UK if Theresa May's plans are rejected and Britain opts for a hard Brexit.
The Dutch electronics giant Philips, which operates the Philips Avent baby products factory in Glemsford, has warned that it could move its production out of Britain in such a scenario.
Last month, the company’s chief executive Frans van Houten expressed concern at the lack of progress on a Brexit deal in comments reported by Reuters.
“As time passes and there is no solution I get increasingly worried that hereafter frictionless trade between the United Kingdom and European mainland could be at risk,” he told Reuters last month, after the company posted worse-than-expected quarterly results. “Basically the UK as a manufacturing hub for the world would be at risk.”
Mr Van Houten added that a no-deal or hard Brexit would hit production at Philips’ main UK exporting plant in Glemsford.
“We are looking at a customs union as a minimum [requirement],” for a negotiated Brexit, he said. “If that were not to happen we would need to rethink our manufacturing footprint.”
This newspaper approached Philips with questions regarding the future fate of the Glemsford factory given the current Brexit deadlock, and the company replied with a statement: “The uninterrupted flow of goods is essential to both the EU and UK economies. This must be frictionless as with a customs union. We need clarity and certainty, because time is running out. Uncertainty causes less investment.”
Stephen Plumb, who is a councillor for Glemsford Parish Council, said that if the outcome of Brexit does lead to the loss of the factory, this would be “very disappointing to the people of our area, particularly of course for those who work there.”
“I would very much like it to stay open, but this has been on the cards for some time,” he said. “It’s one of the biggest employers in Babergh District, and has over the years employed as many as 700 people and as few as 500.
“I’m as confused as everyone else over what’s happening with Brexit. But I believe that people living in our district will be watching what’s going on at the moment in Parliament with particular concern.”
But one employee of the factory said that he believes the exports factory could still have a strong future in Suffolk, because “there is a lot of cache in saying that a brand is ‘made in Britain.’”
Mr Plumb agrees with this sentiment. “In countries like India, Brand Britain is very popular and people like to buy products made in the UK. But Philips is a Dutch company and it might not mean the same thing to them.”
Seventy years ago, before the factory on Lower Road, Glemsford became a base for Philips, it was the site of a flax factory which produced linen from the flax plant that grew all over Glemsford at the time, according to Mr Plumb.
It then became part of Holloways, a plastics moulding company.
The Philips Avent brand can trace its history back 82 years to Cannon Rubber, a family business established in 1936 manufacturing hot water bottles.
The company created the sub brand ‘Avent Naturally’ in 1984 to launch a new type of baby bottle that was short with a wide neck, and was acquired by Philips in 2006.
It now sells more than 30 million bottles and 27 million soothers every year.
In 2012, millions of pounds were invested in equipment to enable the Glemsford plant to manufacture a revolutionary new baby bottle.