Vestas confirms closure of Isle of Wight and Southampton factoriesTurbine maker says closures will balance demand, as boss criticises UK’s commitment to wind and hints at redundancy reinstatement for protesters
Glwadys Fouché and James Randerson
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 12 August 2009 13.39 BST
Vestas has confirmed the closure of two sites on the Isle of Wight and Southampton with the loss of 425 jobs. Employees at both factories were informed of the decision today.
The closures follow a sit-in protest by 11 employees which began on July 20 and ended on August 7 after the company obtained a repossession order and sent in bailiffs to remove the protesters.
The protest was hugely embarrassing for the government at a time when it is promoting wind energy and green jobs. The Vestas plant was the only one in the country making components for wind turbines. The protesters gained considerable support from trades union groups and environmentalists.
The company said that 40 employees had been found new roles within the Vestas research and development facility on the Isle of Wight. A further 57 employees will continue to work at the factory to assist with its closure.
“The decision to close the factory was very difficult, and we fully recognise the impact this will have on employees, their families and on the Isle of Wight,” said Ole Borup Jakobsen, president of Vestas Blades. “Nonetheless, this commercial decision was absolutely necessary to secure Vestas’ competiveness and create a regional balance between production and the demand for wind turbines.”
Despite confirmation of the factory’s closure, the company’s chief executive confirmed that staff redundancy benefits, which were withdrawn from the protesting workers, were under review.
Speaking exclusively to the Guardian, Ditlev Engel said that the company is planning to look again at the decision to strip the workers of their redundancy package because of their involvement in the protest.
“The last thing that we wanted was to have this confrontation,” he said. “We will go back and see what it is that we can do going forward and also for all the people affected because we only had one wish and that was to try to do this in the best possible way. Coming back to the 11 people, we will have to revisit, to look at that as well.”
Asked whether this meant that Vestas would reconsider its decision to remove the redundancy package from the men who occupied the plant, Engel said: “I am not ruling anything out.”
Vestas has previously said that UK planning laws are a major barrier to wind energy development and that they were one of the reasons for the company’s decision to pull out. “It is clear there is a need for reviewing [planning laws] in the UK,” said Engel. “Nimbyism is also an issue.”
He said that the UK government was failing to put its plans for more renewable energy into practice. “In the UK there is a clear division between what the government would like to see happening and what certain local politicians want to see happening, or rather not want to see happening … there is not necessarily the same ambition levels.”
He also said that the government needed to invest in the electricity transmission grid to make it more friendly to wind energy.
“A major challenge in the UK is the future grid investment which needs to take place,” he said.
Vestas first announced plans to shut manufacturing at the Isle of Wight factory in April saying it could produce blades more cheaply in America.