Pilgrim’s UK has announced proposals to close its abattoir and butchery facility in Ashton, Greater
Manchester, with more than 500 members of staff potentially facing redundancy.
The proposals form part of the company’s ongoing footprint review, as the business, which has struggled financially in recent years, aims to ensure the best structure for its long-term growth and development, while ‘mitigating the current unfavourable market conditions in the UK’.
The initial phase of Pilgrim’s UK’s footprint review included the closure of its Coalville site and the imminent closure of the Bury St Edmunds site, as well as the introduction of a four-day week at Ashton in September 2022. In order to continue to optimise the business’ operational footprint, Pilgrim’s UK executive team has now proposed to close the Ashton site and transfer existing operations to its facilities in Spalding, Westerleigh and Bromborough.
Closure of the 70-year-old site would put all 542 Ashton staff, at all levels, at risk of redundancy. The proposals will, however, create 90 additional roles split between Westerleigh, Spalding and Bromborough. Pilgrim’s will now enter into a period of collective consultation with site union and employee representatives.
The Ashton site, one of the biggest pig processing plants in the UK, lost its China export licence in 2021, while the pig processing sector, as a whole, is having to address capacity as the size of the UK pig herd and therefore weekly pig throughputs decline.
Pilgrim’s said the UK pork sector continues to face the most significant challenges in its history, with the UK sow herd having contracted by around 15% and loss-making farmers leaving the industry due to a sustained period of high production costs and lower pig prices.
At the same time, an increasing and ongoing reliance in the UK on cheaper, lower welfare imports from the EU and post-pandemic recovery challenges within certain markets has negatively impacted UK production, it said. .
Rachel Baldwin, Pilgrim’s UK’s vice president of human resources, said: “The decision to propose the closure of our Ashton site has not been taken lightly and we have made every effort to explore alternative options.
“A key part of our work to return to growth includes ensuring we fully optimise our operational footprint and the age and location of Ashton within a densely populated area means that there is no feasible opportunity to modernise or grow the site.
“As a result, these proposals are unfortunately essential to ensure a sustainable future for our team members across the UK.”
The company said full support and guidance will be provided to anyone at risk of redundancy, including support in seeking alternative roles both inside and outside of the Pilgrim’s UK organisation. It also pledged to work closely with the site team and customers to ensure we maintain quality and service levels throughout the process.
A few days ago, it announced it was looking to add a further 90 jobs at its Redruth plant.Pilgrim’s UK has also recently a restructuring of its management team, following the departures of agricultural director Barney Kay and pig supply chain director Mark Haighton.
The company reported losses of £16 million in 2021 and has also challenging financial circumstances in 2022.
NPA chief executive Lizzie Wilson said: “With the breeding herd down 25% in two years and slaughter numbers dropping 20% year on year, this news is disappointing for everyone involved although not a surprise.
“We need to ensure that the UK maintains sufficient slaughter capacity so that as the sector recovers, it is able to expand and thrive into the future.”