Open letter from councillor to South Suffolk MP calls for urgent progress on future of soon-to-close Delphi Diesel Systems site in Sudbury
A plea for urgent progress to be made on the future of a major employment site in Sudbury has been issued, amid concerns that the uncertainty is adversely impacting the town’s economy.
Sudbury county councillor Jack Owen has written an open letter to South Suffolk MP James Cartlidge, requesting an urgent update on what will become of the Delphi Diesel Systems plant in Newton Road, which will cease operating next year.
The letter also called for a long-term strategy to on how to preserve employment in the Sudbury area, and a speedy publication of the options appraisal for the site, commissioned by Babergh District Council.
Mr Owen argued the current Brexit negotiations turmoil in Parliament was a clear indicator that “a year will pass very quickly when there isn’t a plan in place”.
In response, Mr Cartlidge, who chairs the taskforce, confirmed negotiations between Delphi and an unknown bidder are in progress regarding a purchase of the site, although he was not privy to further information.
Meanwhile, it is understood that another investor, which had bid to buy the site for the production of a sports car, has continued to express interest, despite commencing work on the car in Spain, after the bid fell through back in December.
The MP added that he is confident the taskforce has added value to the process, but acknowledged it could take some time for it to reach its conclusion.
Delphi is not the only large industrial firm set to vacate south Suffolk, with Philips Avent also recently announcing its factory in Glemsford will be closing, affecting hundreds of jobs.
Delphi, which has manufactured components for diesel vehicles in Sudbury for decades, and Philips Avent, which makes baby products at its Glemsford plant, have both cited market factors in their reasoning for departing Suffolk.
Mr Owen stated the closure announcements of both Delphi and Philips, as well as the reduction in staff at another big Sudbury employer, Prolog, meant the role of the South Suffolk Taskforce has “never been more important”.
But he voiced his concerns over the lack of updates from the task force in recent months, and claimed an urgent meeting involving Delphi representatives, trade unions and local politicians was needed to determine possible ways forward.
“It is vital for the future of Sudbury that a long-term plan is put in place which involves the whole community, not just a behind-closed-doors group working in secrecy,” said Mr Owen.
“With the increased housing being built across Sudbury and the surrounding area, I have a very grave concern about where these people will be working, and the lack of news about the future of the Delphi site is leading to a loss of confidence and investment across the whole town.”
He also called for a statement to be provided by the Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), detailing what it would do to support Sudbury.
In response, Mr Cartlidge agreed it is vital the site is retained for industrial use so that jobs can be preserved, and said Delphi had insisted the potential bidder wants it for this purpose, but the sale process would still involve “extensive due diligence” on both sides.
However, he emphasised there are currently no specific details about the offer or the identity of the bidder, and the process was out of the direct control of the task force, which is not due to meet again until after the local elections this week.
He added that the Unite union says the Delphi plant has remained extremely busy, with more agency staff being used in order to meet a busy order book.
“This impression has been confirmed from other second-hand anecdotal evidence relayed to me,” said Mr Cartlidge.
“In this context, and given that, irrespectively, any sale of so large a site is bound to take time, one can appreciate that Delphi is likely to take its time and proceed in an orderly fashion.
“It is frustrating not to have a signed-and-sealed purchase of the site by a company committed to preserving industrial employment.
“But, with only two compulsory redundancies to date and a still buoyant employment market, we are some way from the hard hit to our local economy many understandably feared.
“The greatest challenge in south Suffolk’s economy, even with the two closures, is recruitment.
“When the Job Centre appeared to give evidence about both Delphi and Phillips, they confirmed that departing staff were not struggling to find alternative employment.
“We must not be complacent, which is why the task force was created, but nor must we lose sight of the positives.”