At 10am on Tuesday all of Novartis’ 371 employees in Horsham were informed of the pharmaceutical giant’s plans to close down its 25 acre research and development site off Parsonage Road, Horsham, by the middle of 2014.
Immediately following her unenviable task, Novartis Country President UK, Sue Webb, visited the County Times offices to give an exclusive interview to the paper.
“It is an incredibly difficult time for everybody on the Horsham site right now,” said Ms Webb. “Our focus is now on our people, and really giving them one -to-one time to work out what is important for them, through a difficult process.
“No time is a good time for an announcement like this, no time at all, but I think it is incredibly important that we tell people as much as we know, as quickly as possible, so that they can start to make individual decisions as the process carries on.”
Novartis has been one of Horsham’s largest employers for many years, the site originally established by Swiss chemical firm CIBA nearly 70 years ago. Until substantial job losses were announced in 2011 the firm employed close to 1000 people in the town.
And despite the announcement of the loss of manufacturing facilities and 500 positions, as late as August 2012 Novartis was maintaining its commitment to Horsham as a centre of excellence for research and development into respiratory conditions.
The pharmaceutical giant’s UK board had approved redevelopment of the site, parcelling off some land for new housing and other usages, but the firm stated it was committed to Horsham and the Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research respiratory disease centre, where it anticipated up to 450 people would work from 2013 onwards.
A year later this commitment is in cinders, and following a 90-day consultation exercise it is expected the whole site will be sold off with the loss of 371 local Novartis jobs, as well as 170 contractor positions, such as security and catering personnel. What has precipitated this change?
Ms Webb, who at 50 has been in charge of Novartis’ UK affairs for four years, said animal rights protests and Britain’s more ambiguous relationship with the European Union had played no part in the decision, nor was it a reflection of the award-winning quality of the work carried out in Horsham, which has often been cited as a centre of global excellence.
Instead, the Novartis executive stated: “The thing that has changed has been a continual look at the best way to spend your resources and we have a huge responsibility to patients and we have a huge responsibility to our associates as well.
“And we have a responsibility to bring innovative medicines to the market, and the only way you can do that is if you continually challenge the way you spend your money and we are focusing on the right disease areas and are we making the best of those resources.”
The company’s strategy is to have three major research hubs in Shanghai, China, Boston, USA, and Basel, Switzerland.
“Economies of scale mean it is better to consolidate into those three hubs rather than have them distributed throughout the world,” said Ms Webb, who did confirm though that some of the research work currently being undertaken in Horsham would be discontinued.
In answer to what work will no longer be done a spokesperson interjected and said projects are currently under review and the full picture remains unclear.
Ms Webb clarified: “Horsham site focuses on research and development into respiratory products and a lot of that research and development will carry on in Boston or Basel.
“Which parts will carry on and which parts won’t, well that will be part of the strategic review and it would be wrong for me to comment.”
However, such information will be vital to many of Novartis’ highly-skilled Horsham employees, all of whom are now being invited to one-to-one meetings with human resources personnel.
“We will try and determine what is right for those individuals,” said Ms Webb. “And yes there will be opportunities for people to relocate, but is it likely that 370 people relocate?
“Of course not. It will be a compromise decision.”
She added: “These decisions are not made lightly, and it is a massive impact and we understand that.
“It is the right decision globally for the company though,”
The Novartis Country President UK did admit ‘the UK environment is a difficult one for the pharmaceutical industry – there is no doubt about that’.
She said: “It is a market where we utilise innovative new medicines incredibly slowly compared to other countries and that is always a great disappointment and something we talk to Government about all the time.
“Has that played into the decision on Horsham? No, this is a global decision that says lets put our research and development in the same location to drive synergies, and to drive solutions quicker.
“However, when this happens in the UK, it is not that difficult for a global company to say ‘OK, we pull out of the UK’ because they know that the environment is quite a difficult one commercially.”
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