Leyland jobs blow

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MORE than 300 jobs are set to go at a Leyland firm which supplies DVDs, CDs and computer games.

The MBL Group, which employs 320 people at its base on Centurion Way, confirmed last week it expected ‘many’ of its workers to go, after supermarket giant Morrisons confirmed it was axing its contract to supply its stores.

Workers at the company’s blue and brick warehouse were reluctant to speak about the bombshell.

One employee, who has been with the firm since 2004, said: “I’m 55 and I’m scared because of the pension and everything.”

Another worker, who claimed the company had been up for sale for around a year, said: “Obviously we’re all upset.”

Hugh Evans, policy director at the North West Lancashire Chamber of Commerce, said: “This is very bad news for Leyland. Losing so many jobs is something it cannot afford.”

Shareholders in the company told how some have lost £100,000 after the value of the company’s shares nose-dived, losing half their value following last week’s announcement alone, and questioned the company’s management team receiving £1.7m in salaries and bonuses last year.

Non-executive chairman Peter Cowgill, the high-profile boss of North West sportswear giant JD Sports, received a £300,000 bonus on top of a £30,000 salary last year, while chief executive Trevor Allan received a package worth £1.1m, the company’s annual report has revealed.

One shareholder, who asked not to be named, said questions were also being asked about the decision to buy careers advice business U-Explore in a £2m deal last June.

He said: “Since those figures came out in the annual report, shareholders have been banging their heads against a brick wall trying to find out how the management team justified such pay levels for a company of the size of MBL.

“There are a lot of questions which need answering, both about this, and the purchase of U-Explore, a company which had apparently few links to MBL’s core business, for such a price.”

Shares in the company, which stood at £1.60 last year, plunged 51% to just 15.5p per share at the close of trading yesterday – wiping millions off the value of the company.

The deal made up 78% of the company’s sales.

A spokesman for MBL said the management team, including Mr Allan and finance director Lisa Clarke, who is was reported to have earned £265,000 in 2010, were unavailable for comment.

Mr Cowgill was also unavailable for comment.

In a statement to the Stock Exchange, responding to news of the Morrisons deal, MBL said: “The notification is a significant disappointment to MBL, which has had a successful long-term commercial relationship with Morrisons for 14 years.

“The board of MBL had been in negotiations with Morrisons for several months regarding a future commercial relationship, but have also been notified they have been unsuccessful in securing the third party logistics service tender.

“As previously announced, Morrisons had decided to move away from the existing full supply arrangements provided by MBL, and the announcement will necessitate a significant downsizing of our operations and with regret the resultant loss of employment for many of our employees.”

It added that it is now in talks with Morrisons and its new supplier, Cinram, about workers moving jobs, and about striking a deal to reach a settlement over huge amount of stock it has bought to service the contract.

A spokesman for the supermarket chain declined to comment.