Crossflatts faces its grim future: Kalon's bid for the Manders empire threatens to close Windeck Paints and ruin the town that depends on it, Robert Cole reports

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The Independent Online
ON A GRIM and drizzly Yorkshire day in Crossflatts near Bradford, Terry Brown looked out of the window at his lorry depot and said: 'This, you see, is real life.'

Mr Brown is one of several hundred in Crossflatts whose livelihoods are threatened by the pounds 105m hostile takeover bid by the paint maker Kalon for its rival, Manders.

If Kalon is successful it will shut one of Manders' subsidiary companies - the Crossflatts-based Windeck Paints.

Windeck is a small part of the Manders empire, but the closure would set off a chain of redundancies which Mr Brown fears fund managers and merchant bankers in plush glass and marble City offices care little about.

'It is all very well for them to draw pretty graphs in their glossy documents and talk about us, our jobs and our work as nothing more than so many figures in a chart, but it is all we have,' he said.

If Kalon gets its way - and there is a good chance it will - the 180 Windeck employees will have to look elsewhere for work. That is traumatic enough for a community of 2,000. But the job losses would probably not stop there.

Terry Brown is a co-director of Marchnight, the haulier that delivers Windeck paint around the country. Windeck provides 60 per cent of Marchnight's business and the closure presents obvious worries among Marchnight's 42 staff.

Next door to Marchnight is Castle Tyres, a husband-and-wife operation that mends and fits tyres for Marchnight's trucks. If Windeck closes and Marchnight loses its main customer, Bernard and Christine Birket will be lucky to stay in business.

Darren Beecroft delivers milk to the indusrial estate. Windeck alone takes 125 pints a week and the potential loss of business among all the interlinked businesses is bound to make life harder on the milk round.

Mandy Beveridge makes the wooden pallets on which the Windeck paint is loaded onto the Marchnight trucks.

'If the takeover bid goes ahead it will mean my business will close overnight. I will have no choice but to put all my employees out of work,' she said.

'I have worked so hard to build my business up over the years and it could just all fold through no fault of my own.'

At the top of the industrial estate is the Cafe Castlefields, a caravan cafe in the best northern traditions of hot steaming tea and greasy breakfast butties. Ann Pearson fears the job losses will mean the collapse of her business.

Derek and Elsie Fowler at the local chippie are similarly nervous, as are all the retailers on Crossflatts' short main street.

Across the road at The Royal, Crossflatts' pub, Mick Roper, the landlord, pulled a pint and said wistfully: 'It cannot do anything for business here, either.'

The matrix of misery extends to Mick Garner and John Adamson too, the security men who patrol the industrial estate. If the Kalon bid sparks the string of redundancies that the people of Crossflatts fear, there will be little left for Mick and John to watch over.

Windeck has received dozens of letters of support, not least from some of the charities it supports. Badges and stickers urging 'Keep the Win in Windeck' are on every lapel, door and car window.

For the moment there are money and gifts for the Bingley and the Crossflatts Galas, the Keighley Sea Cadets, the Crossflatts Cricket Club, the Bingley Operatic Society and the local boys' football club.

In addition, Windeck has given paint to decorate the local primary school, the church hall and the play group's centre.

Failure to beat off Kalon is a galling prospect for Windeck, which has endured several changes of ownership during the past couple of years. The uncertainty was resolved - or so Windeck thought - when Manders bought it in January this year.

Manders has invested in a new warehouse for Windeck and hopes were high at the plant that the stability brought by Manders would form the basis of a highly profitable future. Manders promises to keep the plant open, preserving the jobs in Crossflatts, if it successfully fends off Kalon.

Windeck's managing director, Pauline Wood, said: 'Manders brought the technical and financial resources we so desperately needed.'

The immediate target for Mrs Wood's frustration is Mike Hennessy, the chief executive of Kalon. Not surprisingly, his name is dirt all over Crossflatts. Mention his name and folk will first point to his salary last year of pounds 910,319.

That puts Mr Hennessy in the top pay league among public company executives. Those who earn more are usually running much bigger operations.

His pounds 910,319 also compares with a total pay bill for Windeck's 180 directors, office staff and shop-floor workers of pounds 1.3m.

Kalon is a Yorkshire-based business. Windeck's parent, Manders, is based in Birmingham, but Mr Hennessy has targeted the Yorkshire spur of the Manders group for closure.

The fiery Yorkshire temperament gives little quarter to what is seen in Crossflatts as an unforgiveable act of betrayal. Adding to the irony, Mr Hennessy was voted Yorkshire businessman of the year last year.

He is eager to justify his actions in planning to close Windeck. He said it is old-fashioned and inefficient. He is anxious to make it clear that all the Windeck shop floor workers will be offered jobs, if they want them, 18 miles away at Kalon's nearest plant.

'I have been completely candid about our plans. I admit there will be job losses in the first year but we hope to build a bigger and more efficient operation which is better able to compete in international markets,' Mr Hennessy said.

'In the long run I hope to create more jobs, and more secure jobs, by creating a stronger business.'

For the moment, however, that promise gives little comfort to Terry Brown and his friends on the Crossflatts industrial estate.

(Photographs omitted)