Clark to cut 1,400 jobs ahead of flotation

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C&J Clark, the family-owned shoe maker which is being groomed for a stock market flotation, is to cut 1,400 jobs in a major re-structuring that will see three factories close.

The job losses are the latest in a string of factory closures and redundancies at the 171-year-old company which prides itself on its paternalist, Quaker roots.

The factories to close are at Plymouth, where 320 jobs will go, at Shepton Mallet where 420 will be made redundant and the K brand factory in Askam- in Furness, Cumbria where a further 245 jobs will be cut. A re-organisation at the Kentside factory in Kendal will cost 25 jobs. A further 330 will be shed at the company's head office in Street, Somerset.

The head office cuts are particularly painful as the town was largely built by the Clark family who provided schools, libraries and swimming pools as well as a place to live and work.

Staff wept as the job losses were announced following a meeting between union leaders and senior managers at the company's Somerset headquarters in Street. The mayor of Shepton, Mallet Terry O'Connor, who faces possible redundancy himself as a Clark's employee, said he was "devastated" by the news. "It's terrible after all these years of working so hard to be told 'sorry it's not good enough, we can get it made cheaper elsewhere'. Nobody cares about British workers any more."

The cause of the re-structuring is a slump in demand in Clark's UK shoe business as well as increased competition from lower cost manufacturers overseas. Last year Clark's UK shoe profits fell from pounds 16m to pounds 13.2m. The company made more than 600 job cuts earlier this year when it closed its factories in Radstock.

Tim Parker, the former head of Kenwood Appliances who was brought in as Clark's new chief executive last year, said: "These changes are designed to strengthen and develop Clark's worldwide business. No one is ever happy about the effect of restructuring on jobs. However, although most regrettable, the management team has taken this action to reverse the decline in the group's performance over a number of years."

Clark's is under pressure to seek a stock market flotation following the controlling family's rejection of a pounds 189m takeover bid from Berisford three years ago. In return for rejecting the bid, the company then agreed to seek a stock market listing by 1998. Earlier this year it emerged that the company may miss the deadline if the management felt Clark's was not in sufficiently good shape. However, the management must take Clark's public soon or risk another eruption of shareholder discontent.

Following the re-structuring Clark's will still employ over 13,000 people in seven factories. It also has more than 600 shops operating under the Clark's and K Shoes names.