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Brakes food company set to axe dozens of jobs in Ashford

A long-running food distributor is set to axe dozens of jobs amid a downturn in trade caused by the coronavirus crisis.

Brakes, which has two offices in Ashford and a distribution depot in Aylesford near Maidstone, says the Covid-19 pandemic has had a "significant impact" on the industry.

Brakes is one of the biggest UK suppliers to the catering trade
Brakes is one of the biggest UK suppliers to the catering trade

Seventy staff could be made redundant at its head office on the Eureka Business Park in Ashford, while the company's second base in the town - Focus House on the Cobbs Wood estate - is earmarked for closure, causing further job losses.

Not all staff at Focus House face redundancy, but the remaining employees will have to move to head office.

In a statement, the leading food wholesaler, which has been running for more than 60 years, says staff have been made aware of the proposed job cuts.

It said: "The Covid-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the foodservice industry with the closure of most hospitality customers, some of whom have since announced administrations or permanent site closures.

"We are expecting a lengthy recovery period, and the industry is likely to be materially smaller as a result of the pandemic.

Brakes employs 6,325 across the UK, with many at its head office on the Eureka Business Park in Ashford. Picture: Barry Goodwin
Brakes employs 6,325 across the UK, with many at its head office on the Eureka Business Park in Ashford. Picture: Barry Goodwin

"In order that we can continue to succeed in the future and service new and different customer needs, we have reviewed our entire business and proposed a series of changes.

"We have been speaking to colleagues about these proposed changes, which if they progress will result in a number of redundancies at our sites in Ashford, Kent and across other areas of our business."

Brakes was first registered in 1958 as Brake Bros after three brothers - Peter, William and Frank - started the company from the back room of a pub.

In 2016, the business, which is one of the biggest UK suppliers to the catering trade, was bought by US food distributor Sysco in a £2.2 billion deal.

It employs 6,325 people across the UK and earlier this year received a multi-million pound contract from the government to deliver food boxes to vulnerable people during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Frank Brake (right) pictured in 2002 outside his company's head office in Ashford
Frank Brake (right) pictured in 2002 outside his company's head office in Ashford

In its statement, the company added: "We have now entered a period of consultation with colleagues impacted by our proposals, and until that process is concluded we cannot discuss the specifics of any proposals.

"We understand this will be a very difficult time for all colleagues impacted by our proposals.

"We are committed to discussing the changes proposed with those impacted with honesty, humility and respect and are fully committed to supporting our colleagues through this difficult and uncertain time."

Cllr Nathan Iliffe (Con) - who represents the Kennington ward in Ashford - says he is "very saddened to hear of potential job losses".

He said: "Brakes is an important employer in Ashford, having had a presence in and around the town since its establishment 62 years ago.

Focus House on the Cobbs Wood estate in Ashford is earmarked for closure. Picture: Barry Goodwin
Focus House on the Cobbs Wood estate in Ashford is earmarked for closure. Picture: Barry Goodwin

"Its current head office is located close to my ward of Kennington, which was also home to one of the founding brothers, Frank Brake, for many years before his death in 2018.

"As with most other parts of the Ashford area, many Brakes employees will live in Kennington.

"The hospitality industry is one the hardest hit sectors of the Covid-19 pandemic and the potential loss of so many jobs so close by brings this home to us.

"It appears that the extensive government assistance Brakes received, including through the job retention scheme and additional Covid response contracts and payments, may not be considered sufficient enough for the company to keep hold of its staff and so they have taken the decision to consider redundancies here in Ashford.

Seventy jobs are at risk at the Brakes head office in Ashford. Picture: Barry Goodwin
Seventy jobs are at risk at the Brakes head office in Ashford. Picture: Barry Goodwin

"It is a heartbreaking and difficult period for local employees and my heartfelt sympathies go out to them.”

In March, Sainsbury's started selling giant tins of baked beans to meet growing demand which were provided by Brakes.

Last year, the firm refused to comment on claims it had personal guarantees from celebrity chef Jamie Oliver to supply his restaurant chain which had gone into administration.

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