In Malmesbury, there are few tears for Mr Dyson and his miracle cleaner

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The Independent Online

The news that Dyson vacuum cleaners are to be made in Malaysia was widely reported as a bitter blow to British manufacturing. But in Malmesbury, Wiltshire, where 800 Dyson workers will lose their jobs, it is a slightly different story.

Theories abounded last week as to why James Dyson decided to take the lion's share of his business elsewhere. He is reported to have been dismayed that plans for further development in the town faced opposition from local planning authorities. It hardly helped when the same planners then objected to his plans for a swimming pool at his manor house in Little Somerford.

All agreed that the story behind the move was more complicated than what appeared on television and in the press. Local planners insist there was never a formal application to expand the Dyson plant. What is more, they say they now have a suitable site, if Mr Dyson would like to complete the necessary forms.

Many towns would find the loss of half their jobs a hammer-blow. In Malmesbury, there is sympathy for those who will be put out of work, but everyone knows unemployment in the North Wiltshire district is officially too small to measure. Indeed, there is a worker shortage.

Many blame Mr Dyson's high wages (around £16,000 a year on the production line) for making it impossible for local traders to get people to serve in their shops. In any case, most locals seem to travel to Bristol or London for work.

There are other complaints about the plant's 24-hour production cycle, with noisy deliveries at all hours and traffic congestion at shift changes. One man, sporting a flat cap and a Barbour, said the lights from the plant, on all night, were appalling.

George Dowding, who owns an electrical shop in the high street, agreed: "The old people in Malmesbury want to keep it a small town." He, incidentally, is no fan of the Dyson cleaner. "We don't even sell it. People here don't want it. It's too heavy and it's too expensive."

Mr Dyson himself seems to have few smiles for the local community, although his company does give away the odd appliance to good causes.

"He's a London man," said one local. He, like others in the town, believes Mr Dyson simply came to the wrong place. He took over a lighting factory that had been redundant for several years, and everyone was pleased. But as soon as he started trying to grow, he ran into trouble.

Malmesbury is not the perfect place to develop a major industrial export business. The roads are poor and there is no station. Mr Dyson got no official handouts to move from nearby Chippenham.

In truth the Dyson business owes a lot to the dual cyclone of publicity spun around its founder's two big ideas: invention and patriotism. "All my life I have really believed in making products here in Britain," he wrote in The Wiltshire Gazette & Herald last week. But the difference in pay between Britain (£8 an hour) and Malaysia (£1.50) is hardly new. It does not entirely explain the overturning of a lifelong conviction, nor the speed with which it seems to have been happened.

In October, he said: "I don't take the view that we should have a factory elsewhere." In December he showed the Queen round his factory. When 118 temporary workers were laid off days later, the firm insisted that this was normal practice for dealing with economic fluctuations. The workers who assembled in the canteen last Tuesday were completely unprepared for the announcement. "We haven't been told anything," said one group a couple of days later.

And so, they speculate: that Mr Dyson was expecting the Queen to follow up her visit by awarding him a knighthood in the New Year's Honours List. Or perhaps that he has been stung into action by the poor reception for the Dyson washing machine, originally costing £1,000 and only available in his corporate purple, or silver, or purple and silver. A year on, it has just become available in a more customer-friendly white, with a £200 price cut.

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