Like its rivals in Stoke-on-Trent, Royal Doulton has been hard hit by the combination of high interest rates, a strong pound and the deep recession in the Far East. About half of what it makes is exported.
But the company, which has seen its borrowing soar and has huge quantities of unsold stock, blamed poor management for much of its troubles. ``Royal Doulton has been slow to face up to the hard realities required to succeed as an international business,'' a company statement admitted yesterday. ``It has too many products, is overstocked, has over-invested in production capacity'' at the expense of investing in marketing.
Such candour was of little comfort yesterday to Dave Farrell, 33, a forklift truck driver, who was off work with a broken arm when he got a telephone call asking him to come to Royal Doulton's main factory in Burslem. When he got there he found he had been made redundant after 14 years with the company. His wife, Joanne, had also been laid off.
The couple and their two children now face an unhappy Christmas. ``They must have known something was going on for the past six months,'' said Mr Farrell. ``If they'd told us this a fortnight ago we wouldn't have spent as much as we have on Christmas.'' Some workers had had nothing to do for months, he added, but management had assured them they were safe.
Others blamed poor management for the job cuts. They attacked the company's decision to set up a factory in Indonesia, which opened last year. Yesterday, Royal Doulton said it was writing off pounds 2m of the costs of that venture.
Geoff Bagnall, general secretary of the Ceramic and Allied Trades Union, said: ``We have now got a situation where hundreds of our members are faced with a bleak Christmas and an even bleaker new year.''
Declining union's membership figures years reflect the industry's troubles. In 10 years, numbers have fallen from 31,000 to 19,000. Yesterday's announcement may not be the end of the bad news. Other companies in the area were also in talks about finishing early for Christmas, said Mr Bagnall.
The company said the bulk of the job losses - a sixth of its British workforce - would be through compulsory redundancy. Half of the cut is being made immediately, with the remainder by next summer. Most of the posts are in manufacturing, but others in administration and in some of the group's UK shops are also being eliminated. About 200 jobs are also expected to be lost overseas.
Stoke-on-Trent has been a pottery centre for hundreds of years. Josiah Wedgwood's factory, opened in 1759, established the area as the world's leading centre for mass- produced china. Today, some 20,000 people - about a fifth of the town's workforce - are still employed in the industry.
Wedgwood, the market leader, has shed hundreds of jobs in the past two years, according to a company spokesman. But despite the Far East recession, it reported a small rise in worldwide sales last September. Its Irish- based owner, Waterford Wedgwood, plans to invest heavily in the company.
Royal Doulton was floated off from the Pearson group of companies five years ago. A new non-executive chairman, Hamish Grossart, was installed last year. He and the chief executive, Patrick Wenger, were mandated to restructure the company. But Mr Wenger was injured in a car crash in Australia a month ago and is still in hospital.
Other smaller manufacturers in the Potteries have also been shedding staff and reporting falling profits and flat or declining sales. Chris Hall, of the British Ceramic Confederation, said the industry had been forced to increase efficiency. Thousands of jobs had been lost but output had remained fairly constant. While exports have increased, so have imports of cheap tableware -- especially from the Far East.
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