NESTLE Rowntree's plans to cut more than 600 jobs were today described as "tough medicine" by York MP Hugh Bayley.

But the city MP said if the decision helped to secure a long-term future for the confectionery maker, he would work with employees, trade unions and the company to "make that happen".

"York has suffered a spate of job losses from long-established employers, and it is very serious for the employees affected and for the city as a whole," Mr Bayley said.

"We need to recognise that companies face ever-growing competition in a global market, and they have to change to survive.

"The pressure on manufacturing jobs is intense and confectionery is one of the toughest markets of all. The jobs decision is tough medicine, but if it secures a long-term future for Nestl Rowntree in York then I will work with employees, their trade unions and the company to help that happen.

"I hope to meet with the trades unions in the near future to discuss the situation. I want them to become partners for change with the company.

"The fact that Nestle Rowntree is committing to a long-term future in York is welcome, as is the planned new investment in the site.

"Modern facilities will ensure the factory can compete successfully in the competitive confectionery market, and I have made it clear in discussions with the company that they should press ahead quickly with their building plans.

"The council must do all they can to help Nestl to get planning permission for a scheme that benefits the community and supports the company's plans to stay in York.

"Nestl plan to keep 1,800 jobs in York, so they will remain one of the city's biggest employers. The York factory will continue to produce some of Nestle's biggest brands, and the city must support the company's plans to invest in the York site to produce these brands as efficiently as possible.

"That is the only long-term way to make jobs secure."

Meanwhile, union boss John Kirk also lamented the news as a "bleak day for York".

Mr Kirk, organiser for GMB members in York, said "This announcement will be devastating to the people of York and to the long-serving GMB members who work in the factory.

"Nestle's reasons for exporting so many jobs, namely that the plant and buildings are old and out of date, are self serving. Nestle took the profits from the brands year in and year out, and Nestle themselves failed to invest adequately in the plant and buildings in York.

"To use this neglect as the reason to move heritage' brands to plants overseas where Nestle did invest is not acceptable. The move will be fiercely resisted.

"GMB will now seek the support of elected representatives locally, nationally and in the EU and will seek the support of our international trade union colleagues to resist this latest piece of playing corporate chess with our member's livelihoods.

"In particular, GMB will seek to invoke the agreement with our international IUF trade union colleagues in Nestle to prevent job losses.

"Nestle need to take on board that they will need to negotiate with trade unions in the UK and overseas on this matter.

"The proposal to give notice to terminate the current pay and conditions of all employees in York in the expectation of securing give backs' from employees is Nestle throwing down the gauntlet to the members of the entire British trade union movement.

"This proposal will have to be withdrawn before GMB seeks a mandate from members to negotiate terms and conditions of employment.

"All in all, this is a bleak day for York."

Steve Galloway, leader of City of York Council, said: "I have known for some time about the challenges facing Nestle and their wish to modernise and streamline their production operation in York.

"I recognise that international competition in the confectionery business is intense and that further automation seems to be the only option that the company has if it is to remain competitive in its production strategy in the UK and beyond.

"Naturally, job losses of this magnitude do represent a threat to the city's prosperity in the short term, but I am encouraged by the announcement that the planned investment will secure the majority of the jobs that will remain on the site, for the foreseeable future. It is also important that brands which have been associated with Rowntree's for many decades continue to be produced locally and a modernised KitKat line will help to sustain that important product.

"In my talks with the company, I have sought to ensure that any land which may be released by the consolidation of activities can be quickly used for the economic benefit of the city. I am pleased and impressed by the embryonic plans to provide not just new commercial opportunities, which will help to offset any net job loses, but also new family housing."

Bid to sell off part of site

IT is a factory of two halves, says Nestle Rowntree boss Paul Grimwood.

One half, closest to the city centre, comprises old and outdated buildings on several storeys, some dating back to Victorian times. The other, further out of town, comprises much more modern, mostly single-storey buildings, mostly hidden from the view of passers-by by the taller older buildings.

Nestle's plan is to sell off the older part of the site, comprising about 40 per cent of the 170-acre site.

It intends seeking permission for housing, offices and retail outlets, and then disposing of it to a developer.

The proceeds would be invested in the modern part of the site, with buildings extended and new equipment and automated production lines installed.

Office staff would all move into an office building fronting Haxby Road.