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Final days for Lowestoft TV factory

PUBLISHED: 10:30 28 February 2009 | UPDATED: 22:39 05 July 2010

FOR a coastal town mourning its declining fishing industry, the arrival of a multinational Japanese company was the start of a new era.

Sanyo, a big-hitter from the economic powerhouse of Japan, chose Lowestoft to open a television factory in 1982.

FOR a coastal town mourning its declining fishing industry, the arrival of a multinational Japanese company was the start of a new era.

Sanyo, a big-hitter from the economic powerhouse of Japan, chose Lowestoft to open a television factory in 1982.

Renowned Japanese efficiency combined with a skilled and dedicated workforce to be one of Lowestoft's success stories for many years. At one stage, a workforce of about 450, decked out in their smart uniforms, produced 500,000 television sets a year.

Yesterday, it came to a crushing end as the School Road factory closed and its 60 remaining staff faced the challenge of finding new jobs.

In 1996, fresh-faced prime ministerial candidate Tony Blair visited Sanyo and said such companies offered a way forward for Waveney's struggling economy. “There is a great spirit here in Lowestoft,” Mr Blair told reporters as he toured the hi-tech factory.

Perhaps even more significantly, bosses from Sanyo's Japanese base committed themselves to a continued presence in the town during the 20th anniversary of the factory in 2002.

But just over six years on, production has ground to a halt after the current economic crisis dealt a final, fatal blow to the last major TV manufacturer in the UK.

However, scores of jobs were shed at the Lowestoft factory from 2006 onwards as the market was flooded with cheap LCD televisions from China, Turkey and Eastern Europe.

In response, Sanyo moved away from making domestic sets to produce large- screen monitors, primarily used by the advertising industry in shopping centres, sports' venues and airports.

Demand dropped away during the past 18 months, but the company pioneered even larger monitors, which prompted Waveney MP Bob Blizzard to lobby Sanyo bosses in Japan in a bid to save the Lowestoft operation.

His letter prompted a reply promising to review its decision, but that was the last he heard and the Lowestoft factory's fate was finally sealed.

Mr Blizzard said: “It's a very sad day, especially for the employees who have lost their jobs. I think these people deserved better from Sanyo after all the years of service that they have given to the company. I tried my best to save the factory and I put what I thought was a strong case to Japan to give the Lowestoft factory more time to develop this exciting new product.”

Mr Blizzard revealed that Sanyo's monitors were the “talk of the show” at a recent trade exhibition in Amsterdam, but no orders were immediately forthcoming.

He added: “Sanyo should have had a little more faith in Lowestoft and given them longer to develop this product, which I think would have reaped rewards. The way it has ended is sad and unsatisfactory. I think the factory could have been saved and should have been saved.

“I obviously want Jobcentre Plus to do what it can to help these people find other jobs. They are excellent people; hard-working and very skilled. That has been the success of the factory down the years.”

Sanyo launched its Lowestoft operation in 1982 after buying the former Pye factory from Philips. The first task was to produce a 14in television and, in its inaugural year, 60,000 sets were made for the UK.

By 1985, the factory was making 21in and 26in sets and it continued to flourish as new technology speeded up the production process.

Sanyo also boasted harmonious labour relations. In 1982, it was the first UK firm to sign a single union agreement banning strikes, working to rule and overtime bans.

In return, Sanyo agreed to consult with the union on all issues and committed itself to providing lifelong training and education for staff.

A spokesman for Sanyo, in Lowestoft, would not comment yesterday, except to confirm it was the factory's last day.

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