A NORTH-EAST MP has asked for assurances about the future for hundreds of workers employed at a factory that makes Flymo lawn mowers.  

Phil Wilson MP was dismayed by plans announced last month by Sweden-based Husqvarna to close its research and development department at Aycliffe Business Park, in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, with the loss of 40 skilled jobs.

The Northern Echo understands that North-East staff are being offered the chance to move to Ulm in Germany where the company is centralising its R&D operations.

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The loss of the division, which has helped to develop high tech robotic lawn mowers, would be a major loss to the Aycliffe factory that continues to employ 270 permanent production line workers and up to 650 staff during peak times.

Mr Wilson has written to Husqvarna bosses in Stockholm asking them to explain the thinking behind the move which undermines efforts to build a strong engineering R&D sector in the North-East.  

In his letter Mr Wilson writes: "In my view the loss of jobs at your Newton Aycliffe factory will also mean a loss of skills, expertise and experience, not only to the local economy but also to Husqvarna because the vast majority will not be able to move to Germany. Will this not also mean that Husqvarna will now have to train a new group of people at an additional cost to the company to replace workers who already have the required skills and know how to do the job?

"My other concern is the future of your Newton Aycliffe plant and the remaining 300 or so workers at the site. What assurances can you give me and the workforce about the long-term sustainability of the factory, now that you have announced the closure of your R&D operation?"

In total, 600 Husqvarna workers worldwide are expected to lose their jobs in the first half of next year as the company battles falling demand in Europe and in the U S. 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.