Trade unions representing workers at leather goods firm Pittards have urged the Government to do more to support UK manufacturers, as the troubled Somerset firm looks to find a buyer.
Yeovil-based Pittards announced its intention to appoint administrators last week (August 8) after failing to raise £1m it said was needed to continue trading.
Bosses at the historic firm, which employs around 150 people in the UK and 900 in Ethiopia, said the company has been struggling with the wider economic downturn in recent months, amid fluctuating exchange rates from the end of last year, rising energy prices, and a post-pandemic fall in demand for its products.
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At the end of July the Pittards board updated investors on the London Stock Exchange that it was considering “all its strategic options” including a sale of the business and its assets.
On Wednesday (August 16) the tannery told BusinessLive it was looking to find a buyer and that the company was continuing to trade, while no redundancies have been made.
Chief executive Reg Hankey said: “Like many businesses, Pittards has encountered challenges as we’ve emerged from the pandemic, thanks to the once-in-a-generation combination of factors currently affecting the global economy. To ensure the business can overcome these challenges, the board has decided to seek a buyer. We remain hopeful for the future of Pittards and look forward to hearing from interested parties.”
Union officials have called on the government to act, while accusing Westminster of adding to the wider uncertainty facing firms like Pittards, including during last September’s mini-Budget under former Prime Minister Liz Truss’ administration, which prompted market turmoil.
Gavin Miller, the Community Union’s National Officer for light industries, said “This is an incredibly worrying situation for our members at Pittards, and it’s important that the company works alongside our officials on site to support the dedicated workforce at this challenging time. The needs of our members come first, and we will be constantly monitoring the situation and engaging with them to make sure we can provide as much reassurance as possible.
“It’s clear that recent developments at Pittards have not emerged in a vacuum, but rather are symptomatic of the difficult outlook facing manufacturers across the country. The situation has not been helped by the UK Government’s ambivalence towards our manufacturing sector, as demonstrated by the lack of any feasible support for businesses in response to inflation rises and industrial energy bills.”
The TUC’s regional secretary in the South West, Ines Lage, added: “The current Government must do more to protect good local jobs and support businesses like Pittards in the face of ongoing economic pressures. Inflation is still too high and it is deeply affecting local communities, businesses and workers.
“This situation is a painful example of what happens when ministers make disastrous and irresponsible fiscal decisions, such as last year’s budget, which collapsed the Pound Sterling on international markets.”
A Government spokesperson said: “While this is a commercial decision for the company, we understand that this will be a concerning time for workers at Pittards, and we’re here to support those impacted. We have backed businesses all of sizes with an unprecedented package of support including recent fuel duty and VAT cuts, business rates holidays and government backed loans worth around £400bn. We will continue to stand firmly behind them.”
Yeovil MP Marcus Fysh, who previously served as a parliamentary under-secretary in the Department for International Trade under the Truss government, told BusinessLive: “This is a business that has got over its skis with too much debt and it needs restructuring. I have been trying to help with export finance options for several months. It is a good underlying business with skilled employees and interesting global niche market positions and I am hopeful that a new structure for it can be a success.”
Originally founded in 1826, Pittards is part of the history of leather manufacturing and glove-making in Yeovil and the wider area. The company made trench coats and mittens for the British Army during the First World War, and today produces a range of goods including medical and sports equipment.
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