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AZ’s UK research job losses ‘bad news’ for country’s industry say unions

GMB and Unite say 350 job cuts in R&D at Chesire facility will damage UK industry, although ABPI remains optimistic

Unions have said AstraZeneca’s planned job cuts in the country will damage the pharma industry in the UK and have a negative effect on the economy.

They say 350 jobs will go at AstraZeneca’s Alderley Park site in Cheshire, UK, as part of the 7,300 global job cuts confirmed by the company yesterday, although no announcement has yet been made by AstraZeneca.

Allan Black, national officer for trade union, GMB, said: “This is very bad news for the UK economy. These cutting edge R&D jobs are both well paid and essential for a thriving UK economy.

“As a nation we do need to find a viable way to continue to make breakthroughs in bringing to safe use much needed new medicines."

Similar points were emphasised by Unite, the biggest trade union in Britain and Ireland.

Its national officer Linda McCulloch said: "Astra Zeneca must do everything possible to retain these highly skilled and specialised roles. The UK cannot afford to lose these advanced, scientific skills."

McCulloch also commented on AstraZeneca’s recent financial results, saying "if the company can afford a 10 per cent hike in its dividends, then it can afford to retain these roles”.

However, the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) said the cuts did not put the UK pharma industry at risk, despite media concern, and that AstraZeneca would continue to be a big employer and contributor to the UK’s economy.

Acknowledging that the industry had modernised in recent years, the ABPI said in a statement: "We have moved beyond purchaser and seller transactional relationships to a more integrated partnership model. Innovative research companies large, medium and small are working closer together, just as industry is partnering more closely with the NHS, charities and academia."

The industry association did however say that more should be done by the government to incentivise life science investment in the country, and it called on David Cameron to follow through on plans to boost the industry made in December, 2011, as well as the commitment to designing a pricing scheme that values innovation.

The Cheshire job cuts are not an isolated incident however, and other large pharma companies have announced major layoffs in the UK over the past 12 months.

These include Pfizer’s decision to close its R&D facility in Sandwich, Kent, with the loss of 2,400 jobs, although this has later been reduced with 650 workers to be retained at the site, and 250 transferred to other Pfizer R&D sites.

And in March, 2011, Novartis said 550 jobs at its Horsham facility would be cut as part of restructuring operations.

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