Kraft in Keynsham: more twists than a Curly Wurly
If you catch a train to Keynsham, the station is called Somerdale, like the chocolate factory. And the platform is extraordinarily long for a small commuter town midway between Bath and Bristol.
But then Keynsham is not really a town with a chocolate factory. It's more a chocolate factory with a town. The station was built by Fry's, who even had a 'Puss-moth' aeroplane in the '30s to make urgent chocolate deliveries to a travelling circus. So when whispers about the factory go round the town, the whole place buzzes. Right now, the whisper is that the Americans are going to renege on their famous promise.
"There is real anxiety that by the time they make a final decision, it could already be too late", says the town's MP, Dan Norris. The Union rep from Unite adds further fuel to the fire. Jenny Formby says "Kraft were being very irresponsible to talk about changes at Somerdale." She spoke at length about her concerns to BBC Radio Bristol this morning.
So what's going on? What's happened to that famous pledge from the Kraft CEO?
"...we believe we would be in a position to continue to operate the Somerdale facility,which is currently planned to be closed ..."
Let's go back to trains. Imagine a big loco at Somerdale station, being loaded with chocolate machines marked "Poland". The mysterious box that produces Fry's Turkish Delight. The secret recipe for the Crunchie honeycomb. And along by the station master's office, a couple of porters load the legendary twizzler that makes a Curly Wurly curly.
Under Cadbury plans, all 11 chocolate delights made in Keynsham were to move to Poland by the end of the year. That process starts in March. So in three weeks time, the first lines close here and start up over there. Hundreds of workers pick up redundancy cheques and start their new lives in a world beyond chocolate. By the end of 2010, Somerdale is shut. You can even see them building the new factory on Polish TV.
Meanwhile, of course, Kraft have bought the whole sweetie shop. They got the keys to the Crunchie Kingdom a week ago, on Tuesday 2 February. Cadbury's is a huge organisation, employing 5,500 people here and thousands more round the world. Not unreasonably then, they decided on a review of their production facilities. How long for that? Six months.
Do the maths. The Somerdale train is chuffing in the station, ready to go. By the end of the six month review, half the production lines will already be in Poland.
"Somerdale staff, local businesses and residents are calling for Kraft to be make their intentions clear as a matter of urgency. Somerdale needs a 'stay of execution' to ensure it can remain operational."
Can the Americans halt the train? Will they, as it were, come panting onto the platform like some old movietime hero shouting "Stop, stop, unload the Crunchie Machine! Bring the Wurly Curler back inside the factory! This train is going nowhere?"
It would be stunning if they did. Instead, we have this from Kraft's UK Head of Corporate Affairs, Jonathan Hurrell: "We have to review in detail with Cadbury's management the progress of their plan to transfer production and how it fits into Cadbury's 'Vision into Action' restructuring programme."
They say news abhors a vacuum. Kraft are saying nothing more than this at the moment, and giving no television or radio interviews. While they stay silent, Keynsham is producing more rumous and whispers than Crunchies and Curly Wurlies.
Kraft have now announced that they will close the Keynsham factory. The news broke on the wires just now, and my sources at Somerdale tell me that staff were told this afternoon. Amoree Radford, who has been campaigning tirelessly for two years, was devastated. "I believed them," she said to me, "I thought they would keep their word. And now look at this. We've lost the factory after all."