As uncertainty loomed over the future of Vion’s 13,000 staff, following the Dutch/German meat giant’s decision to pull out of the UK (see p5), 900 Hovis workers were left reeling as Premier announced plans to shut two bakeries and four distribution hubs next year, following the loss of a £75m contract with The Co-operative Group.

Some 511 bakery and distribution jobs are to be axed in Birmingham, and a further 196 in Greenford, West London. Closing distribution sites at Plymouth will lead to 50 job losses, and 45 at Mendlesham in Suffolk. A further 100 distribution roles will be lost across Premier’s network.

The Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union said the redundancies were “disastrous”.

“Our members will find it really difficult to find suitable jobs,” said Birmingham regional officer Tony Lewis. “The [old] board brought Premier to its knees years ago, but it’s our members that will suffer for it.”

Premier CEO Michael Clarke said the closures were critical to the long-term future of Premier’s bread division. “We recognise the impact these actions will have on our employees,” he said. “Decisions will not be taken lightly but are necessary if we are to build a successful future for the bread division and those who remain with our business.”

One senior bakery figure said the closure of the loss-making plants would lead to “slight rejoicing - while not forgetting the poor souls who’ve lost their jobs.” He also speculated the plant closures could pave the way for a sale. “Hovis could not be sold in its present state. It’s suffered from a lack of investment for years, and my hunch is they are tidying it up ready for a sale.

“They had to say it was a power brand, but it’s losing money fast. And though the present Premier management is doing a better job, there’s still almost £1bn in debt.”