Research firms 'eye Pfizer jobs'
Drugs giant Pfizer is in "detailed" talks with research companies about possibly salvaging jobs threatened by the closure of its leading UK research centre, a report says.
More than 2,000 jobs are set to go in up to two years' time following last month's announcement that the firm is shutting its renowned research and development (R&D) facility at Sandwich, Kent.
Medical experts said the move was "devastating" for British science, coming as the latest in a series of UK R&D job cuts as the industry moves to slash costs.
Today the Sandwich Economic Development Task Force delivered its 30-day report to ministers outlining hopes to stimulate jobs and growth in the region following the setback of Pfizer's decision.
It lists a series of key demands, including calling on the Government to designate the area as a research, innovation and technology zone, bringing tax and planning breaks.
The report also reveals Pfizer's confidential efforts to try to transfer staff and assets to so-called contract research organisations (CROs) on the Sandwich site.
It says: "Pfizer is currently in detailed and commercial in confidence negotiations with a number of CROs, which could provide a positive basis around which further economic activity and job opportunities can be generated."
Authors of the report also called for the creation of an east Kent recovery and growth package to aid investment in infrastructure, jobs and skills.
They say that, in particular, the development of high-speed rail links and a cut in journey times between Thanet and Dover would have a big impact on the potential of the Sandwich site and wider local economy.
In the coming weeks, the task force will establish the costs, benefits and viability of its proposals, working with the Government and Pfizer on the long-term options for the Sandwich site.
Task force chairman Paul Carter said: "Our report focuses on the opportunities presented by the world class skills and facilities built by Pfizer over the last 60 years.
"Combined, they offer a unique asset on which to build a new model of high-tech growth and employment which would be of importance not only to Kent, but to the country.
"Time is of the essence.
"The task force has brought together experts from business, finance, universities, politics and local government.
"We have sought to understand best practice from around the UK and the world in developing workable solutions which will deliver our vision of growth in this unique and historic area.
"We will leave no stone unturned in stimulating new business at the Pfizer site and growing wider employment opportunities to help Pfizer staff, local contractors and the local community."
South Thanet MP Laura Sandys said: "At the heart of the report are recommendations for finding ways that staff and the wider community affected are supported."
Pfizer has a history at Sandwich dating back more than 50 years and the Kent R&D site lays claim to some of the world's biggest medical discoveries, including blockbuster drug Viagra.
Its closure will affect 2,400 staff directly employed at the Sandwich site and will result in significant indirect job losses through contractors and the supply chain supporting Pfizer's business.
News of Pfizer's pull-out from Sandwich followed mammoth jobs cuts announced by GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca in recent years.
The Royal Society of Chemistry estimated that nearly 6,000 jobs have gone over the last 12 months from UK drugs and science firms.
Thanet District Council chief executive Richard Samuel said: "There's much for us to welcome in the report.
"In particular, the support being proposed for the existing workforce and the creation of a new enterprise zone present some excellent opportunities for Thanet.
"The focus on plans for the Manston Parkway and improving the rail service to Thanet and Dover, bringing us to within an hour of London, is something that this council has supported for many years.
"As the report points out, that would bring us as close to the capital as Oxford and Cambridge, and of course our location has additional benefits of being at the gateway to continental Europe.
He added: "Something else to be welcomed is the aspiration that east Kent should be able to match the average levels of economic success of the rest of the South East in the future.
"That's something that the council has wanted to see Thanet achieving for some time and something that we've worked tirelessly on for many years."
Paul Watkins, leader of Dover District Council, said: "It is vital that early action is taken to maximise the potential of the world-class facilities at the Pfizer site, and we are very pleased that Dover District Council has been actively participating in the delivery of this first report to ministers, and we continue to work together for the future."
Ruth McKernan, the Sandwich site head at Pfizer, said: "The task force has speedily identified positive and well-considered options to help diversify the opportunities for the Sandwich site as well as the east Kent region.
"As noted in the report, our immediate priority is to continue to support our staff through this transition which we are doing through training and outplacement events, as well as to continue our discussions with third parties that could help provide some jobs to meet the skills and expertise of our colleagues and help sustain the future of the Sandwich site."
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