ONE of the largest and most historic firms in High Wycombe is to close its factory with the loss of up to 350 jobs.

De La Rue Global Services, said yesterday (23/09?2002) that it plans to close its base in Coates Lane, formerly Harrison and Sons, by June 2003. Work will be moved to its other UK sites.

The high security printers is well-known for its royal connections. Harrisons printed the first ever royal stamp in 1911 and has issued a series of commemorative stamps over the years. Many royal visitors have also visited the site including The Queen.

The future of the factory, which prints stamps, gift vouchers and travellers cheques has been in doubt since a review of the security products division was announced in May.

Last year a company report said the factory was performing "below expectations".

Chris Crutchley, general manager of the plant, said: "It is difficult for everybody at the moment. I am pretty disappointed as well but we have got to the stage where this decision has had to be taken.

"We are expecting to sit down this week with staff representatives and union representatives and start discussions.

"All 350 staff will get an at risk letter including me. It is going to be difficult for everyone."

Equipment at the factory will be transferred to other plants in Peterborough and Dunstable, as well as America.

Simultaneously De La Rue announced it was buying another high security printer, House of Questa, in Byfleet, Surrey, for £3.2 million.

House of Questa prints stamps using specialist presses and some operations will move there.

Harrisons is one of the most famous names in printing, its history going back 460 years to when one Richard Harrison was granted a licence to print one of the first ever Bibles to be printed in English. The Harrisons trademark was first registered in 1562.

De La Rue took over the firm in 1997.

Its chief executive, Ian Much, said yesterday: "The proposed closure of our High Wycombe site, while painful, is necessary to reduce capacity and deliver the required operational improvements to get the business on a firmer footing for the future."

Mark Fearon, head of corporate affairs for De La Rue, admitted the firm could not offer jobs to the majority of the workers.

Mr Fearon said: "Not very many will be offered jobs. There will be some opportunities at the House of Questa factory in Byfleet for those who work printing stamps on the gravure presses but that is about it."

He refused to speculate on whether the six-acre site would be sold off to help fund the move.

A commercial agent estimated the site could fetch up to £1.5million per acre if sold off for housing.

Chris Harding, a spokesman for the Graphical, Paper and Media Union, said: "We reached an agreement six to nine months ago and we thought we had put ourselves in a position where the company could go forward. A lot of people changed shifts and there were quite a few new working practises introduced.

"I guess people are going to be pretty angry and there will be a lot of shock."

A 90-day consultation process will end in December.

The news is the latest body blow for High Wycombe's industry. Four weeks ago CompAir announced it was closing its manufacturing operation with 150 job losses.

First published: 24/09/2002