Almost 600 jobs will be lost in the North East after the decision by Nestlé to close one of its factories in Newcastle and cut jobs at its York plant by the end of 2023.

Swiss owned international food giant Nestlé said 475 jobs would go at the former Rowntree site at Fawdon, where Fruit Pastilles are made. A further 98 jobs are expected to be lost at its York factory, where KitKats are produced.

Trade union reaction has been, not unsurprisingly, critical of the move. The Unite Union says that cutting so many jobs during the pandemic is “bitter and heartless”.

The National Officer for the GMB Union, Chris Jukes was angry at the announcement and believed the job cuts could have been handled better. He said: “It’s corporate greed at its worst – GMB and Unite will fight for every job.”

Explaining the proposed closure, Nestlé said the changes would “create a more efficient manufacturing footprint” and have been announced as early as possible to allow time for consultation with workers and unions.

The company said it is adapting for the future, with a £29.4 million investment at its factories in York and Halifax. It added: “Nestlé Confectionery has an ambitious business strategy in the UK and these proposals are intended to support our long-term success in an increasingly competitive category.”

Political leaders joined trade unionists in questioning the reasoning behind Nestlé s’ decision and also highlighted the impact the plant’s closure would have on the local community.

The Fawden site is where Nestle produce Fruit Pastilles

Reacting to the news, Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes called the Nestlé s’ proposals a “hammer blow” for the city and pledged to try and get Nestlé bosses to change their minds.

Elsewhere Labour MP for Newcastle North, Catherine McKinnell said: “The announcement that 63 years of chocolate manufacturing in Fawdon could soon come to an end is absolutely devastating. This will be an extremely worrying time for loyal workers who produce some of the best-known names on the sweet aisle and have helped keep the nation fed during the Covid-19 pandemic”.

She added: “It is particularly difficult to accept that the world’s largest food company needs to make hundreds of Newcastle workers redundant at a time when it has just achieved its strongest quarterly growth in a decade.”

The Labour MP said she would be meeting urgently with Nestlé employees and the GMB union, which has condemned the cuts as “corporate greed at its worst”.

Newcastle’s Lib Dem opposition leader and a councillor for Fawdon and West Gosforth, Coun Nick Cott said: “The news of the closure of Nestlé’s factory in Fawdon will have a marked detrimental impact on the community and beyond”.

He added: “The loss of jobs is greatly worrying at a time of significant uncertainty for the economy as a whole. We are urging an early discussion about the future of the site and the impact the closure will bring”.

Coun. Cott was also concerned about the wider impact across the city. He said: “The closure also needs to be examined in the context of the city’s preparedness for the challenges of a post-Covid economy. We’ll be pressing the council and partners to address the economic needs of the whole city and to address the need for training and new jobs”.

In a statement Nestlé said: “We do not underestimate the impact that the closure of Fawdon factory would have on the local area and, as part of the consultation, we want to work with the local community to find ways that we can support the area and our employees if these proposals were to go ahead”.

The news comes just a couple of weeks after Newcastle found out that even though it’s bid to become a Freeport had being ranked third in the national bidding process the bid had failed. The area lost out to areas with lower ranked bids, including Teesside.