Shepton Mallet cider mill closure 'risks 120 job cuts'

Shepton Mallet cider mill Image copyright Google
Image caption The cider mill in Shepton Mallet is owned by the Irish cider maker firm, C&C Group plc

A cider mill is set to close with its production being moved to the Republic of Ireland, its owners have said.

The Somerset mill, owned by Dublin-based C&C Group whose brands include Gaymers and Blackthorn, has 127 staff.

Wells MP James Heappey said: "This is a devastating blow for Shepton Mallet, the job losses are significant and that will be my first concern."

Although the mill will close, fruit pulping will continue and apples will still be sourced from local farmers.

'Inflexible employer'

The trade union Unite has criticised the closure, describing it as "disgraceful, discourteous and Dickensian".

Unite regional co-ordinating officer, Steve Preddy added: "It was only this afternoon - hours later - that the shop stewards and workers were informed that the plant was closing.

"This is an unacceptable way to behave in the workplace in 2016.

"We know our members work for a Dickensian and inflexible employer, which puts company profit for shareholders and company directors first and foremost."

The mill currently has two full-time staff for its fruit pulping operation and up to 15 seasonal staff.

The apples are sourced from around 70 growers in Somerset and Hereford, with about 40% of fruit grown in Somerset.

Once the fruit is pulped it will be sent to Ireland to make cider.

The mill has been operating since 1770 and is synonymous with cider production in the county but is expected to close in late summer, the union added.

A closure date has not been confirmed.

'Intensely competitive'

The Dublin-based firm also said its other site in Borrisoleigh, Tipperary would close with the loss of 54 jobs, so production and packaging would all move to Clonmel.

A spokesman for the firm said: "The trading environment in the UK and Ireland has been intensely competitive over recent years.

"This has led to significant downward pricing pressure and the loss of material contracts for private label water (supermarket branded mineral water)."

The firm added the closures had been a "difficult decision", adding the Clonmel site was the only viable option to maintain long-term competitiveness.

Conservative MP Mr Heappey, added: "Shepton Mallet is the global centre of the cider industry and we now face the real prospect of cider no longer being produced in the town and that would be an incredible shame."

The trade union has said it is seeking an urgent meeting with management and what can be done to safeguard jobs there.

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