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Love Lane Lives - the boys & girls from the whitestuff

Love Lane Lives

The history of sugar in Liverpool and the effects of the closure of the Tate & Lyle sugar refinery, Love Lane

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JANUARY 22ND 1981: 90 day REDUNDANCY NOTICES for Love Lane Refinery Workers

Written by Ron Noon at 15:26 on Tuesday, January 22nd 2013

Axe on Love Lane
(A blog I did two years ago details the closure: http://www.lovelanelives.com/index.php/blog/entry/tates_90_day_redundancy_notices_thirty_years_after There is also the SAVE OUR SUGAR from Hillside School to read if you are new to this site. http://www.lovelanelives.com/index.php/blog/entry/save_our_sugar)

Before I illustrate the nature of the 90 day notice delivered to Tate & Lyle’s Chief Executive on January 22nd 2006 there are two key points to be made:

TWO incontrovertible facts have shaped my obviously partisan opinions as to why the comically misnamed Liverpool Love Lane Sugar refinery was closed down at the end of the 90 day redundancy notice period. 1500 workers and their supporters had to try and pull off in that concertinaed time frame, what they had failed to achieve in over eight years of struggle. The result was that a prominent Liverpool Landmark was shut down on April 22nd 1981. That had been Henry Tate’s mother plant.

1. The first piece of evidence particularly relevant on this 32nd anniversary of the issuing of the 90 day notices is that Tate & Lyle were the major recipients of regional aid between 1975 and 1981. That attention grabbing detail is verified by a document from the Planning Officer of the City Council, issued a few days after the 90 day redundancy notices had been issued and in the records that Albert and John gave to the Museum. * (see at foot of blog)

2. The second and equally incontrovertible evidence is that “ship sales will cover the Liverpool redundancy costs”, a point confirmed not in the museum but in the Lex Column of the Financial Times in May 1981. Ships that were originally bought through Bermuda based subsidiaries were now being sold to help finance a massive closure in what had been described as “the Bermuda triangle of British capitalism”.

Starting with a conclusion was not the method of the company historian, J.A. Watson but that did not preclude him from adopting a position statement at the beginning of his book which was a professedly “neutral opinion”!  He argued that closure “could not have been prevented by the company acting on its own”. I fundamentally disagree with that.

“Counter-factual” is a jargon term imported from America which has established considerable scope for coffee table discussions on “what if” questions, and some quite successful novels and histories. We all have a habit of asking “what if” even “if” it is only to reflect on whether Anthony would have been as infatuated with Cleopatra “if” she had had a different shaped nose! “If” it had not been for Clive Thomas in April 1977 then we would have been at Wembley and not LFC!

The teacher character in Graham Swift’s Waterland is for me however the one who brilliantly, albeit unwittingly, provides the best reality check on Love Lane’s closure in 1981. He describes the “if” word as “sly and insidious” but “if” Love Lane had been kept open it would have at least acknowledged their earlier commitment to keep a presence on the site, in what had been the “jobs for jobs” policy of the late 1970s. Instead the end of a once prominent Liverpool Landmark just north of the city centre was both sly and insidious for the generations of workers who had not only devoted their working lives to Tate & Lyle,  but vaingloriously believed right up until the very end, that despite fears over the Common Market and its egregious Common Agricultural Policy favouring first world beet sugar over African, Pacific and Caribbean raw cane supplies, that the company would maintain some presence on this historic site.  It certainly benefited more from regional aid than any other company and of course after that was exhausted it had run! 

Tates may have denied “transfer pricing” but it certainly operated a sophisticated fiscal policy. (Transfer Pricing relates to the price at which divisions of multinational/transnational companies transact with each other. Transactions include the trade of supplies or labor between departments and are always influenced by lower cost tax regimes.)

A good example of this is how a subsidiary of a Canadian subsidiary was able to provide monies from Bermuda to buy ships for the Tate & Lyle Group in the 1970s. Canada and Dominion which later became Redpath was Canada’s largest sugar refiner but in 1959 Tates acquired a majority holding in the firm. In 1965 when Tates had a 56% holding in the company, Saxon Tate became its managing director and with a considerable “war chest” was in a position to “undertake the first diversification of the Tate & Lyle group outside of sugar” into shipping and other activities. Under him a subsidiary Albion Limited was established in Bermuda to take charge of trading, broking and shipping activities. Bermuda was the ideal place to create a trading firm or as Chalmin suggests at the very least “the ideal place for its letter box”.  This was very profitable and helped to finance the acquisition of ships for Tate’s Shipping Line. The Canadians were very discrete about Albion Ltd but how many redundant refinery workers in Liverpool were aware of Tates corporate welfare funding and the ironic fact that “ship sales” were used to finance the cost of redundancy. These were ships that may have been financed from the Bermuda subsidiary to fund another hole in the Bermuda Triangle of British capitalism.

Back to 2006 and the 90 day REDUNDANCY PARTY LETTER letter sent to Iain Ferguson!


Dear Mr Ferguson,
                    I am a history teacher from Liverpool and next Sunday, January 22nd, will be the 25th anniversary of the issuing of 90 day redundancy notices to 1500 refinery workers at Henry Tate’s mother plant, Liverpool Love Lane. It is not exactly the kind of historical fact that is studied on the National Curriculum but it has a real resonance here on Merseyside, where the surviving “boys and girls from the whitestuff” look back nostalgically to the days when they helped sweeten the nations breakfast tables.

For me the only thing that mattered about sugar when I started to research Liverpool’s refinery workers, was that it was sweet, but that is the last thing that can be said about the history of the “white stuff”. Far be it for me to give the Chief Executive of a Sugar Giant that continues in the name of “Tates”, a history lesson, especially when you are married to a lady with impeccable historical credentials, but my brief goes beyond historical themes.

It is to make a request on behalf of the Tates Liverpool pensioners, the late Peter Leacy, Tony McGann of the Eldonians, Alan Bleasdale, Jimmy McGovern, Brian Reade, Jack Jones, and Tony Benn, that Tate & Lyle plc finance a reunion of the former Love Lane employees, either on or after April 22nd, the fateful day a quarter of a century ago when after 109 years of operation on the romantically named site, sugar cane time came to an abrupt end in Liverpool.

Our famous port city’s history is inextricably linked up with the politics and power of sugar and of a once prominent landmark, just north of the city centre, where the world’s biggest sugar dynasty was established in 1872. Facts like that were relayed to me by so many of your former Liverpool employees in friendly interviews where many talked about “family spirit” and the company being a “smashin’ firm to work for, most of the time”. Sadder tales were recounted however, and Mr Leacy, a proud former Tates pensioner visitor, told me of his bitter disappointment over the scrapping of the “biennial Christmas party” at the Britannia Adelphi Hotel, in December 1999 and of the disappointing responses to a letter he sent your predecessor, Larry Pillard, in January 2001. 

  Mr Leacy’s letter was written three weeks before the 20th anniversary of the issuing of the 90 days redundancy notices, and requested a final party bash! “The month of April…calls to mind the end of sugar refining at Love Lane factory in Liverpool, and your board of directors may wish to mark or commemorate the event to acknowledge the contribution that the many thousands of sugar workers made in over one hundred years to the well being, the prosperity, and the success of Tate and Lyle…May I therefore prevail on your good self, and your fellow directors to stage a final, one-off, never-to-be-forgotten farewell to Love Lane party at the very place of so many happy T&L get-togethers…the Adelphi Hotel in the City of Liverpool, on or near the date in April 2001. May I?”

He was then informed by Mr John Walker acting on the CEOs behalf,  that because the company was having difficult times, reflected in a low share price, “I don’t think we could justify the kind of expenditure that such a party would require”. We hope sincerely that is no longer the case, especially given the lead your company took in the Footsie 100 just before Christmas last year. 

Mr Leacy also described to me a cameo scene from the “last supper” on Lime St in December 1999 which I hope informs your response to this letter.  “Mr Richard Springford, the ‘human resources’ supremo from T&L London, for whom I had worked during my southern sojourn, was appointed to deliver the final address of welcome and farewell at the Adelphi. I was annoyed when no senior staff person or ex Love Lane personnel bothered to reply either in gratitude for past Christmas dinners or to express regret at the ending of them. So I introduced Mr Springford to my old T&GWU shop steward, Bob Bannister who asked a very valid question…… ‘Would it spoil some vast eternal plan if these Christmas get-togethers were to continue every two years, after all in ten or fifteen years most of us will have left for greener pastures?’.”

Precisely! Sadly Mr Leacy passed away last June. So having discussed a number of options and after talking to his twin nieces, Sheila Sullivan and Councillor Sharon Sullivan, the course of action that has the backing and support of the names I quoted earlier, is to formally issue this 90 DAY REDUNDANCY PARTY NOTICE!

Yours sincerely

Ron Noon