PRODUCTION at one of Wigan’s oldest and most famous workplaces could cease within months.
Hoe and spade firm Bulldog Tools of Ince has shocked workers by announcing a consultation into the future of its forge founded 230 years ago.
But parent company Rollins, which says it cannot afford to maintain a full UK operation, is proposing moving the Ince-based forging operations – believed to be to Indonesia – to leave only a skeleton staff at the famous Clarington Forge involved in assembly and distribution.
Almost 40 of the current 54 jobs are now said to be under threat before the end of 2014.
Today Wigan MP Lisa Nandy said the proposal would be “bad for Wigan, bad for Bulldog and bad for the workforce”.
Angry union representatives say the plan will have a devastating effect on some of the town’s last remaining traditional engineering jobs.
Unite area officer Franny Joyce is now arranging a crisis summit meeting with company chiefs having requested all the documentation behind the closure threat. The firm wants to shut down the forge on September 27. Assembly and handle production is guaranteed only until next March, after which that operation will be further reviewed.
Mr Joyce said: “The workforce, like the union, are totally shocked by this decision and it is a devastating blow to the generations of workers that have been employed there.
“This forge started at the time of the American revolution 230 years ago, that is how far back the history stretches and is the last of its type in the UK. It cannot and must not be thrown away in this disgraceful manner.
“The whole point of the product is Bulldog, craftsman-made in the UK, absolutely not the business end of the product being outsourced to be forged in the Far East.
“There are some fantastic skills here and they will never be replaceable if it were to close.
“At a time when all local economies and small business enterprises like this are fighting to survive, closure of this site is very very difficult to take.”
Bulldog, which held their first consultation meeting with workers late last week, said in a carefully worded statement issued to the Evening Post that it was unable to sustain forging in the UK” due to the pressure of increased costs, repairs and the need for massive investment in the business if forging were to be continued.
Rollins Bulldog Tools MD Stuart Elsom, said: “We will continue with the Bulldog brand into the future and propose to operate a small assembly department, despatch and warehouse operation from the current Wigan site in Darlington Street East, where we will retain a reduced workforce to operate the business.” But in a communication to shocked workers, the Board of Directors said that during the last nine years of ownership of the forge and business, Rollins had “strived to build and invest in manufacturing to the best of its ability.” But it was now proposing to close the forge operation “with regret.”
It said: “Rollins finds itself at a point where we can no longer sustain manufacturing in the UK. We do not have the financial resources to allow us to continue operating with the cost levels required to keep a UK based forge in operation.
“We appreciate it is going to be a difficult time for everyone within the business. As an employer we will do everything that we can to ensure that this process causes as little distress as possible to all the staff involved.”
Ms Nandy has now written to company bosses urging them to drop the proposal.
She said: “Bulldog tools has been a British success story for over 200 years thanks to its long-serving, dedicated workforce in Wigan.
“Moving the forging operation overseas would be an incredibly short-sighted decision, losing the company’s greatest asset because its skilled workers who have shown loyalty and commitment over the years. In recent years Bulldog employees have put up with cuts to their hours and wage freezes to help the company through the recession.”