THE Government’s decision last year to give the post-Brexit passport printing contract to a French company has been blamed for the potential loss of 170 jobs at De La Rue’s plant in Gateshead.

Trade union Unite said yesterday’s announcement that the company has begun consultation on the future of 170 skilled printing jobs working on the foreign currency contracts came on top of the 100 passport printing jobs due to go in the autumn.

Unite national officer Louisa Bull said: “The Government’s short-sighted and blinkered decision to award the printing of post-Brexit UK passports, worth £490 million, to French-Dutch firm Gemalto seriously undermined the financial viability of the Gateshead operation. This flawed decision came home to roost today with the loss of 170 jobs working on the different types of currency notes that De La Rue produces.

“This is devastating news for the workforce, their families and also for the north east economy which can ill-afford to lose such skilled jobs. Unfortunately, there is a dearth of printing jobs across the region and the employment opportunities for those losing their jobs are few-and-far between.

“Most European countries regard the printing of passports as a national security matter which should be done in the home country. However, we have a government which prioritises a rigid adherence to a right-wing outsourcing agenda before maintaining skilled printing jobs in the north east and guaranteeing national security.

“And the final distasteful irony is that Gemalto has now outsourced the printing of UK passports to a Polish firm.

“It is clear that De La Rue is in financial trouble with its chief executive Martin Sutherland stepping down recently– a situation made worse by the decision to print the post-Brexit blue passports abroad.

“The company will argue that the cost of production in Gateshead is a challenge and it will be looking to place more of its contracts at its Malta operation. De La Rue also has plants in Kenya and Sri Lanka.

“Unite will be doing all it can in supporting our members at this very difficult time and will continue to campaign strongly to keep vital printing work in the UK.”

If the redundancies go ahead, there will still be 200 workers doing currency printing at Gateshead.

A De La Rue spokesperson said: “As the world’s largest commercial banknote printer we regularly review our operational footprint to ensure it meets global demand. We are currently in the final stages of a footprint restructuring programme that was announced in 2015 to ensure our business continues to be competitive on a global scale."

The firm proposes shutting one print line at Gateshead and is currently consulting with all parties concerned.