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Workers battle to save Rolls-Royce factory with 350 jobs ‘under threat’

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Workers at the factory which produced the world’s first jet engine are battling to save it from closure.

Rolls-Royce is moving production of fan blades from the 80-year-old factory in Barnoldswick, Lancs, to Singapore, threatening 350 jobs.

Barnoldswick began producing the first jet engines, invented by Frank Whittle in the 1940s, as part of the war effort.

It once had 3,000 workers, but now has barely 500.

Staff said they felt “betrayed” after helping train Singapore colleagues in 2009 on the assurance they would only handle extra demand and Barnoldswick would remain a “centre of excellence”.

If just 150 workers are left in Barnoldswick, unions fear for the viability of the site.

Former union rep Frank Hayhurst, 56, said: “They gave us the assurance that it was not a competitor, it was a sister site, and that any downturn in work would be shared equally. But that was absolute nonsense.

“They have systematically decimated our side. They have failed to invest for donkey’s years.”

Former quality control inspector Andy Peach, 65, who worked at the site for 38 years, said: “It’s terrible. All the promises they made to us.

“They could never have got Singapore going if 60 people from Barnoldswick hadn’t set it up.”

Rolls-Royce plans to shift manufacture of fan blades for its Trent series jet engines to Singapore.

One worker – the last of three generations of his family to work at the plant – told the Mirror on condition of anonymity how he now fears redundancy. He said: “The atmosphere is terrible. We have young people with families who will soon be out of work.

“One guy I work with applied for 27 jobs. He got one interview for a job cleaning on the minimum wage. He’s been at Rolls-Royce for more than 30 years.”

Unite is now balloting for strike action, which could begin in November. One worker said: “We have to do something. There was an indicative vote on strike action and it was unanimous.”

Unite regional officer Ross Quinn said: “Our members will not allow this historic factory to close without a fight. The workers feel totally betrayed by management.”

Rolls-Royce blamed the “unprecedented impact of Covid-19” for its decision to move blade production from the “older” site in Barnoldswick to a “purpose-built facility” in Singapore.

Barnoldswick was initially owned by Rover, but taken over by Rolls-Royce in 1943.

The first jet engines made there were for Gloster Meteors, our first fighter jets, which flew in 1943.

German engineers were several years behind Whittle but, thanks to Hitler’s support, got their jet planes in the air nine months earlier.

After the war, Whittle became friends with his rival, German inventor Hans von Ohain, who told him: “If Hitler or Goring had heard there was a man in England who flies 500mph in a small experimental plane… it is likely that World War II would not have come into being.”

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