REGIONAL development agency One NorthEast today described the closure of the Electrolux cooker factory at Spennymoor, County Durham, as a major blow for the workers and the local economy.

Production at the plant, which employs 500 staff, will switch to Poland after 2008.

The electrical goods company began a review of operations in October after warning that its factory on the Merrington Lane Industrial Estate had been hit by intense global competition and falling prices.

Ian Williams, One NorthEast director of business and industry, said: "Today's closure announcement is a major blow for the workers and for the local economy.

"There has been a manufacturing presence on the Electrolux site for more than 50 years which has supported generations of workers and their families.

"We will now be working with our partners and Electrolux senior management at Spennymoor to give the workforce every possible opportunity to find new employment.

"A public and private sector response group comprising employment and skills experts will work with every employee to identify their strengths and the opportunities open to them moving forward.

"One NorthEast worked closely with Electrolux to look at all the options for the Spennymoor plant, but in the fiercely competitive global marketplace the company decided that it is no longer viable.

"Public and private sector partners spoke with Electrolux management this morning to discuss future arrangements and will meet again on Monday to put together a package of help for workers."

In a statement Magnus Yngen, head of Electrolux Major Appliances, Europe, said: Our competitors have to a large extent moved their production facilities to countries with a lower cost base which has resulted in increasing price pressure.

This development, in combination with a shift in consumer preferences from free standing cookers to built in cookers, has eroded the competitiveness of our Spennymoor factory.

Running a loss making factory is not sustainable which is why we have decided to consolidate our UK cooker manufacturing into our factory in Swidnica, Poland.

Unions hit out at the closure and said more needed to be done to stem the flow of manufacturing jobs from the UK to lower cost countries abroad.

Jeff Morland, from the Amicus section of Unite, said: "We have seen tons of plants shut down production here and transfer to the former Eastern Bloc countries where wages are lower.

"That will continue unless somebody does anything about it.

"These multi-national companies unfortunately see the world as their playground and are not stuck by international boundaries, they go where they can make the biggest profit."