NEWS that up to 200 jobs are at risk at one of the region's largest employers has been described as a "devastating blow" to the community.

GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) confirmed it is reviewing roles at its Barnard Castle site as part of operational cuts over a three-year period.

Members of staff at the plant told The Northern Echo they had been called into a meeting on Monday to be told a consultation was being started that could result in some people being redeployed or made redundant.

One worried employee, who wanted to remain anonymous, said: “People are understandably worried about their jobs but it didn’t come as a big shock.

“There have been rumours going around. This plant has been doing well with new money coming in and the like.

“They cut jobs at Cumbria last year but we’ve been okay up to now. In the last few weeks we started to hear that there could be cuts in the offing here.”

The Barnard Castle manufacturing site employs around 1,300 people of which 1,100 are manufacturing employees.

Last July GSK announced it was investing £39m into the site to expand production of treatments such as HIV and asthma.

Barnard Castle’s deputy town mayor, Councillor John Blissett, said the whole town was “devastated” by the announcement.

He said: “We don’t know the finite details but it’s devastating for the town and I think it’s a great shame.

“It’s a lot of jobs and it’s quite a lot of local people who are employed there so it’s a devastating blow.”

Cllr Blissett said he was “surprised” by the news especially at a time when the company was investing in and expanding the site.

MP for Bishop Auckland, Helen Goodman, said she was disappointed and speculated on the effect of Brexit on the decision.

She said: “GSK have committed to a long-term future in Barnard Castle, and are building new production facilities to be ready in the next few years. These job losses are part of a cost cutting exercise and very disappointing.

“By coincidence last week the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) select committee published a report on Brexit and pharmaceuticals. A few months ago the chairman of GSK told me that Brexit would add £50million to their costs.

"This is a clear argument of why the UK must commit to staying in the customs union and European Medicines Agency to strengthen our position in the UK and protect jobs.”

A spokesman for the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee said: “There are still significant concerns that [a ‘no deal’ Brexit] could injure the UK’s position as a manufacturing base, a global supply hub and as a manufacturer and recipient of new and innovative medicines.

“The Government should pursue a trade agreement with the European Union, and with other trading partners, that includes all finished and component pharmaceutical products, and is not limited to those currently listed under WTO rules.”

Ms Goodman added: “I will be in regular contact with GSK and my constituents for the entire consultation period.”

A GSK Spokesperson said: “We regularly assess operations across our global manufacturing network and as part of a strategic review at GSK Barnard Castle, we are proposing changes that may affect employees at the site.

"This is subject to appropriate consultation and no decisions have been made. We will continue to support those affected by the news and will consult with them and their representatives."

He added: “Over the past two years, we have announced a number of investments at our Barnard Castle site, all of which are progressing to plan.

"As a supplier of medicines to patients around the world, Barnard Castle remains key to our global manufacturing network.”