Food, banking and china firms shed 2,000

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The Independent Online

More than 2,000 UK jobs were put at risk yesterday as companies including Imerys, Barclays and AB Foods all announced restructuring plans.

The worst-hit region will be Cornwall and Devon where the china clay company Imerys has decided to close a number of pits.

Imerys, a French company, blamed high energy prices, overseas competition and a weak dollar exchange rate for the closures, which could result in up to 800 job cuts as work is moved to lower-cost Brazil.

Imerys is one of the largest employers in Cornwall, using the china dug out of pits around St Austell for a variety of products. The company employs about 2,000 workers in the south-west of England, after slashing 700 jobs over the past four years.

In 2002, 300 Cornish jobs were outsourced to Brazil, but Imerys argued that the move was not the start of a mass transfer of work to South America.

The Transport and General Workers' Union reacted with fury arguing the closures would "deal a huge blow to the local economies in Devon and Cornwall". The union was annoyed that the news was issued before workers were properly informed and said it would seek an urgent, top-level meeting with Imerys. A spokesman for the union said: "Over the years there has been a series of salami cuts. Imerys is a useful anagram for misery."

Associated British Foods is also slashing jobs. It will close two of its six sugar beet refineries at a cost of more than 200 jobs. The move anticipates a European Union drive to cut sugar prices across Europe from next year. AB Foods will close its refineries in York and Allscott, near Telford, by mid-2007.

A further 825 jobs were put at risk yesterday when Maintenance One Services went into administration. M1, whose headquarters are in Milton Keynes, supplies 1252 UK Tesco supermarkets with maintenance support. Begbies Traynor, the administrators, will attempt to find a buyer for the business.

"We are extremely hopeful that we can save all the jobs of the workforce," Vivian Bairstow of Begbies Traynor, said.

Barclays, which announced 1,200 job cuts in its banking division last week, said it will cut a further 350 jobs as it closes its Hastings and Birmingham offices and looks to outsource more work to India.

However, the bank will create 140 new jobs through an expansion of its Basingstoke operation and hopes the majority of the job cuts will be dealt with through national attrition and redeployment.

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