A North-East MP reckons that the planned closure of a high tech research centre is both a blow for jobs and a bad business decision.

Phil Wilson was dismayed by plans announced last month by the Swedish firm Husqvarna to close its research and development (R&D) department at Aycliffe Business Park, in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, with the loss of 40 skilled jobs. North-East workers are being offered the chance to move to Ulm, in southern Germany, where the company is centralising R&D operations.

The Labour MP wrote to company bosses in Stockholm asking why the axe had fallen on the North-East and if the move threatened the company's main factory in Aycliffe which makes Flymo lawnmowers.

Loading article content

In his reply, Hans Linnarson, Husqvarna president and chief executive explained that the decision was part of attempts to cut costs amid "difficult economic conditions and uncertainty across the world."

He added that the loss of the R&D division, which has helped to develop futuristic robotic lawn mowers, "does not have any direct relevance" to the futures of the 270 permanent production line workers at Husqvarna's main Aycliffe plant.

"On the face of it this seems like good news," Mr Wilson told The Northern Echo. "They have made it clear that the closure of the R&D facility will not have a knock on effect at the main factory site, but I will continue to monitor this situation closely.
"What has concerned me, however, is that Husqvarna failed to answer my point about this being a bad business decision. The company are going to lose experienced and highly skilled people at Aycliffe and be forced to bear the cost of training people in Germany. Why do that when you are trying to  manage costs?"

Asked if he thought many Aycliffe staff would be making the switch to Germany, Mr Wilson said:

"I think there are one or two who are considering it but this would be a life changing decision and not many people will be prepared to uproot their families."

In total, 600 workers worldwide are expected to lose their jobs in the first half of next year as Husqvarna battles falling demand in Europe and the US. About half the redundancies will come in Sweden.

The company said the move would help to slash annual costs by £20m.

The Husqvarna Group, which employs about 15,800 people, is the world's largest manufacturer of outdoor power products including chainsaws, trimmers, garden tractor ands and lawnmowers, primarily under its flagship Flymo brand.