WIGAN’S oldest manufacturing firm might be saved after all, bosses said today.
In fact painful job cuts at Ince-based Bulldog Tools should give it a “strong new future”.
The company finally switched off its ancient blast forges last month after spiralling energy costs had led to the firm outsourcing spade, hoe and fork production to India.
A high-profile campaign by Wigan MP Lisa Nandy, which included a council delegation headed by Lord Smith travelling to London, was unable to persuade parent company Rollins Group into a U-turn.
And the firm is currently near completion of a major redundancy programme which will see the workforce halved – to less than 30 staff – by the new year.
Bulldog’s boss insisted today that the firm had “absolutely no alternative” if the company, originally founded at the time of the American Civil War, was to avoid going out of business altogether.
And managing director Stuart Elsom went on to reveal it is in talks with the council over exciting new plans to relocate to modern new premises in Wigan – within the next two years. It hopes to use the capital receipts from housing redevelopment of its historic – but hopelessly uneconomic – Clarington Forge base in Darlington Street for homes to invest in state-of-the-art welding, finishing and assembly equipment.
It may yet save some of the original forging equipment for a heritage display at its new home or donate it to the council for possible exhibiting itself.
Mr Elsom believes that, freed of the burden of “crippling” energy costs and an inefficient factory site, Bulldog could be in a position to start taking on staff again as part of a bold new business plan based around a new home in the borough.
He said: “Bulldog has always been so proud to be based in Wigan and we still have a strong and exciting future here.
“The forge was old and gas-powered and has to run at 1,100 degrees.And despite a lot of thought and a lot of effort we were unable to get ourselves into a situation where if could be used for forging that was in any way competitive.
“We have held many talks with our energy supplier and looked at alternative suppliers but at the end of the day there was only so far we could go if the operation was to have any future.”
“Our intention, absolutely 100 per cent, is to stay within the borough but relocate to a new site using the funds generated from the redevelopment of our existing site for housing.
”It would be hopelessly uneconomic to try and refurbish the existing factory and the machinery within in one hit, but this scheme gives us a much brighter future
Mr Elsom revealed that some buildings on the Clarington Forge site are well over 150-plus years old and look “more like a musuem” than a working factory.
In fact some buyers calling at the historic site have mistaken some of the unoccupied parts of the factory for evidence that Bulldog had already relocated and set off in search of the supposed new site.
He said: “There will still be a high quality range of tools manufactured here in Wigan long into the future, because we are only going to buy in certain component parts.
“And Bulldog will retain the machinery to make sure it the fork and spade heads receive the same expert level of finishing Bulldog has always offered.
“We are now in a position to determine our own future from a much stronger base line which I am confident, will also allow us to expand and offer more employment opportunities in the future.”