JUST three weeks from Christmas, almost a quarter of the 400 staff at educational suppliers The Consortium in Trowbridge have been told their jobs could go by next May.

The move is understood to hit office staff hardest, but also involves workers on the night shift at the Hammond Way distribution centre. The firm is one of the largest remaining single employers in the town.

The company was taken over in July by RM plc, which has announced consultation on 95 redundancies in what it describes as a move to integrate the firm with two similar companies it already owns.

One employee, who wished to remain anonymous, said he was devastated by the news, especially as it comes just before Christmas.

“I am very stressed, as I have a wife, a family and a mortgage. Coming just before Christmas we are now going to be looking for jobs in the New Year up to May,” he said.

“It was kind of half expected because the company had told us after the acquisition they would have to save money but it is still extremely bad news at this time of the year.”

Staff are understood to be wondering whether to try for new jobs immediately or to accept redundancy payments. The Consortium began life as part of Wiltshire County Council, supplying schools across the county with materials from pencils to desks and chairs.

It later became a stand-alone independent business which has supported local charities and community groups.

The Mayor of Trowbridge, Cllr Deborah Halik, said: “This is shocking. I am very saddened about this news. It’s not something that I would like to hear happening in Trowbridge, particularly at this time of year coming up to Christmas.

“Hopefully, they will get some form of recompense or redundancy payment until they can get a new job.

“We do have new businesses opening up in Trowbridge all the time, so hopefully these people will be able to find jobs in the area in other sectors.”

Consultation with employees is understood to have begun, after RM plc broke the news to staff.

The Abingdon-based company purchased the UK’s leading independent supplier to the schools and early years education sector earlier this year.

The company formed part of its £70.4m takeover of Connect Group plc’s education and care division.

RM plc says it is now rationalising the business to save costs and ensure that it remains competitive.

The group supplies products, services and solutions to education markets in the UK and overseas. It operates three divisions: RM Resources, RM Results and RM Education.

RM Resources is the only division affected by the rationalisation. It consists of The Consortium, West Mercia Supplies (WMS) and TTS Group Ltd.

A RM spokesperson said: “Following the acquisition of Connect Group’s Education & Care business in July 2017, RM plc have begun the process of integrating The Consortium and WMS businesses with the TTS business, creating a single RM Resources business.

“Our goal is to create a high-performing, market-leading business within the UK schools and Early Years educational resources markets, whilst increasing the scale of our growing international business.

“UK education market conditions have been challenging for a number of years and we anticipate this continuing into the foreseeable future.

“The RM Resources business must be able to scale and adapt to the economic challenges in the marketplace to ensure that we can build a sustainable, market-leading and profitably growing business. Therefore, it will be crucial for us to simplify our processes and realign our costs to ensure we remain competitive.

“This will involve making changes to some parts of the business, and regrettably, these changes could result in a potential 95 redundancies at The Consortium in May 2018.

“We will begin a consultation

period over the coming weeks and during that time our focus will be on supporting those who may be affected.”