BAYER says comments made by its chief finance officer about Newbury being the ‘dodgy end of the Thames Valley’ were taken out of context and do not reflect the views held by the company.
Ute Bockstegers made the comments in front of more than 200 people at a Thames Valley Property Forum meeting held to discuss what the region can do to make itself more attractive to employers.
Bayer last year announced it would be leaving its UK headquarters in Newbury after 32 years in the town and moving its 470 employees to Reading.
This week, Bayer’s head of communications for the UK and Ireland, Simon Greenstreet, said: “The personal comments were taken out of context and do not represent the company’s view, which is that Newbury remains a good location for business.”
However, the comments made by one of the company’s most senior employees surprised some in attendance.
Newbury resident Ian Purvis, who is managing director of property PR firm Porterfield, said: “I feel it was inappropriate for a person of her standing to make such a comment as she did among an audience of more than 200 business leaders and the real estate community.
“It was sad that there seemed to be no-one there from West Berkshire to challenge that claim.”
Another attendee, who didn’t want to be named, said: “The comments were made at the end of a long discussion about resource and the conclusion was Newbury couldn’t offer Bayer what it needs.
“She said one of the reasons for Bayer moving to Green Park is that they can attract more skilled workers who can help grow the business and move it forward.
“I think what she was trying to say was that Newbury was the ‘dodgy end’ in terms of resource, but I agree it didn’t sound great.”
‘Dodgy’ comments aside, the fact Newbury couldn’t give Bayer what it wanted reinforces concerns raised by business leaders that it is becoming a ‘dormitory town’.
Last year Richard Deal, director of Newbury-based commercial property agents Deal Varney, wrote to the council saying: ‘We believe Newbury is at a crossroads’.
“It has always been a great place to live but, if we continue to ignore business and its needs, we will become the dormitory town that is so often mentioned.”
At last year’s Newbury Vision conference, West Berkshire Council chief executive Nick Carter admitted Newbury “could not compete with Reading or London” when it came to attracting and retaining major employers. In response to Mr Deal’s letter, Mr Carter insisted that Newbury remained a ‘very attractive location for businesses’.
Bayer had considered several sites in Newbury before deciding on Green Park. Its first choice was the London Road Industrial Estate, but delays to the proposed multi-million pound redevelopment meant that was not possible before Bayer’s current lease expires in 2018.