Council told in 2019 Chatteris factory would close
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Closure of a Chatteris factory – with the loss of 230 jobs – did not come as a surprise to Fenland Council who were told, confidentially, in 2019 it was to happen.
Council leader Chris Boden made the surprise announcement in response to questions from Cllr Nick Meekins.
“We were aware back in 2019 that this was going to happen,” said Cllr Boden.
He was explaining Fenland Council’s response to the official closure announcement of carrot producers Alan Bartlett & Sons.
Cllr Boden said council officers had “face to face” talks with Bartlett in November 2019.
Contact was maintained throughout 2020 “and although officers were keen to arrange follow up, the company preferred to hold off”.
He said both he and the portfolio holder for economic growth, Cllr Ian Benny, were “aware at all times” of the company’s closure.
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Cllr Boden said: “Unfortunately these meetings take place on a confidential basis – the company has not made a formal announcement as to why they were considering close the site.”
Cllr Boden said the closure had nothing to do with either the district or county council and it was “entirely an internal matter to do with the company”.
There was nothing whatsoever that Fenland Council could have done “to redress or prevent closure”.
The council leader says Fenland Council has spoken to the company and informed them of support available to employees once the statutory notice period ends.
And there would be further meetings to advise employees losing their jobs of rights such as unemployment pay, re training opportunities, setting up their own business and mental health.
He said the council’s “interventions” worked well when dealing with a previous closure, that of Produce World. And he promised the council would help Bartlett’s agents promote and market the site both nationally and internationally once it is offered for sale.
“Bartlett and FDC have agreed to work closely together,” he added.
Director Toby Bartlett said: “We have made the extremely difficult decision to close our business at the end of the season in June 2021.
“All employees were advised on Monday February 15 and are now going through collective consultation.
“Our focus remains on supporting them over the coming months and doing everything we can to help find alternative employment in the area.”
In its most recent accounts for the year ending May 31, 2019, it revealed it employed 300 people.
The accounts – to the year ending May 31, 2019 – shows Bartlett turned over £38m, had a gross profit of £12.5m, operating profits of £887,000 and net profit of £420,000.
Farmers Weekly reports that the closure will force a rethink for farmers renting land to the Bartletts.
NFU Cambridgeshire county adviser Hannah Padfield said: “This will impact on growers who let land to the company for carrot and parsnip production, not just in the local area but further afield into Norfolk and Suffolk as well.
“They will have business decisions to make as to their cropping for the next growing season and beyond.”
Although it has not explained the reasons behind its decision, sources inside the company believe the loss of a contract with a major supermarket may have been an influencing factor.
Alan Bartlett & Son has frequently been listed in the top 100 Cambridgeshire firms – in 2019 Cambridge-based financial and business advisors Grant Thornton produced its annual leadership board. Bartlett was rated at no 52 in the top 100 publicly available accounts of privately owned firms.
Companies House record that last October there was a significant management change at Alan Bartlett & Sons Ltd.
Alan Bartlett was noted as stepping away as a “person with significant control” with twins Oliver Bartlett and Toby Bartlett recorded as those with “significant control”.
Alan Bartlett started working for the family veg business at the age of 17 and came to Chatteris in the 1980s.
Toby and Oliver, 30, joined the family firm in 2009.
The company grows, harvests, processes and packages a range of vegetables from rural fenland.