John Bridge on the Co-op Depot Closure

17:40 Monday 10th January 2011 Drivetime BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

ANDY BURROWS: Let’s return to our top story this afternoon, and it’s the grim news that 230 jobs at the Co-op distribution centre in Peterborough are under threat. The company in Ivatt Way Westwood says efforts will be made to redeploy staff. The company has sites in Huntingdon, Godmanchester, and plans for a new base in Hampshire. But the firm has said it is likely there will be redundancies. John Bridge is from the Peterborough and Camnbridgeshire Chambers of Commerce. Evening to you John.
JOHN BRIDGE: Yes, good evening Andy.
ANDY BURROWS: Well as I was saying to the Peterborough MP Stewart Jackson earlier on in the programme, this is not good news is it? It’s not what we want to hear.

JOHN BRIDGE: It’s very disappointing, clearly when we see obviously jobs potentially being lost. But I think we have to understand this is not really a reflection on Peterborough, in terms of the fact that obviously it’s a rationalisation within the Co-operative business, where they’re looking at the way they distribute their goods, and clearly they’ve been involved in amalgamating with other supermarkets, and the key thing is that what they’ve actually done is looked at where their strategic centres should be. And of course it’s disappointing that Peterborough is not there. I think the good thing is that clearly two of the locations in Godmanchester and Huntingdon are within commuting distance. And I know that the Co-operative will be doing all that they can to ensure that they look after the people that they currently employ, and make sure they can offer as many alternative jobs as possible.
ANDY BURROWS:People might be listening to this though John and thinking, well, Peterborough, a few years ago when all those logistics businesses, distribution centres, call them what you like, were set up, they were set up on the basis of the fact that Peterborough had great links. And now we hear of a company opening potentially a new base in Hampshire, to rival Peterborough, by the sound of it. You wouldn’t have thought that somewhere like Hampshire had better links than Peterborough.
JOHN BRIDGE: No I think what we have to do is look at the way they deal with it, and looking at having it in the centre of clearly where they want to distribute. I don’t think it’s got anything to do with the links or has any negative impact on Peterborough whatsoever. Because at the same time as we’ve got that, we are also talking to other companies who clearly see Peterborough as a very key place from a strategic point of view, and location point of view, to want to bring their distribution businesses. And one of the good things about the whole situation is that for those that perhaps unfortunately will lose their jobs, I genuinely believe that there will be other opportunities. Because we’ve got big logistics companies already in Peterborough who are developing and expanding and creating more jobs, as well as other companies who are also considering Peterborough for creating new logistics-type jobs. So I genuinely believe that overall we will be able to try and help accomodate most of the people that unfortunately lose their jobs.
ANDY BURROWS:Let’s hope you’re right, because certainly in 2011 you’d have thought that jobs market in Peterborough, across Cambridgeshire, is going to get very very competitive, isn’t it, especially with local authorities getting rid of people?
JOHN BRIDGE: Yes. Clearly we know and understand that unemployment is probably going to rise, rather than decline, during 2011. In Peterborough we’ve actually gone a little bit against the trend over the last few months, and seen the situation improving. And we very much hope that clearly that will be able to continue. But in all these things, when we look at it, sometimes you do two steps forward and one step back. But overall, I genuinely believe that we will be creating and having the opportunity for more jobs than we actually lose, and that we will have and be able to create the opportunities for the people who are not able to keep their job in the current situation.
ANDY BURROWS:Still confident then, are you, that by this time next year the county will, do you think, it will have sidestepped in many ways the worst of the recession? We know jobs are going in other parts of the country, but do you think Cambridgeshire as a whole will be OK this year?
JOHN BRIDGE: I think that Cambridgeshire will. I think there’s some very positive things happening, and not only just with Peterborough but other parts of Cambridegshire, that we already know, and we obviously talk to people in commercial confidence, so we are aware of different companies that are very clearly keen on looking and perhaps relocating into the Peterborough and Cambridgeshire area. And certainly the prospects that we see for job creation, particularly in Peterborough, is one of the best that there is in the UK. And that has been supported by other information and other surveys that people have done.
ANDY BURROWS:: OK. Well you’re remaining positive. I just wonder though John, just finally, very quickly, we heard, didn’t we of reports a few months ago, of small and medium sized companies not being able to get the kind of credit that they got from banks before. What’s the feeling on the ground now? Are they basically, do they have financial arrangements in place now, or is it still quite difficult for those small and medium sized companies then?
JOHN BRIDGE: It’s still very disappointing for small companies about their relationships with the banks. They’re not perhaps as helpful as they have been, and clearly what happens is that a lot of the criteria have changed, and they’ve gone from almost lending money for anything, to being very restrictive in every way. And clearly I think the Government understands this, and I’m aware that a lot of work is going on behind the scenes, and the banks are being geared up to actually try and deal with this issue, and be more open, and lend more money to the smaller businesses that so desperately need it. And I think it’s quite critical that they get it. January as you may well be aware is one of the most critical times for small businesses. It’s a time when at the end of January, VAT is often due from their most important and heaviest income quarter, and also tax is due to HM Customs and Revenue. And therefore there’s a lot of pressure on cashflow, and it’s at this time, when small businesses desperately need help from the banks to ensure they can deal with the situation, and not have a big problem.
ANDY BURROWS:Well thank you very much. Good to speak to you. John Bridge that was, from the Peterborough and Cambridgeshire Chambers of Commerce.