THREE hundred jobs are to be axed at the oldest engineering works in Leeds.

The cuts are at American-owned axle maker Dana Spicer Europe, at Kirkstall Forge.

Stunned workers at the former GKN engineering plant were told of the cuts in the 500-strong workforce at an emergency meeting with union officials and managers yesterday. The jobs will go over the next 18 months.

Metal has been forged at the site since 1151, when monks operated a blacksmith's shop, making it the oldest works in Britain. Dick Croft, divisional officer of the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union, said today: “This is devastating news. Staff are angry and unions are extremely worried about the future.”

Dana in Leeds makes specialist axles for equipment including earth movers and HGVs. Two years ago bosses packed up the entire contents of Dana’s factory in Kassel, Germany, and moved it to Leeds in 100 truck loads. The 4m transfer was hailed at the time as an example of British manufacturing fighting back against economic gloom. It created 65 new jobs.

Today’s job losses come at the end of seven days in Leeds that have seen print firm Agfa Gevaert in Seacroft axe 400 jobs, telecoms firm Energis cut 350 jobs (some in Leeds) and component distributor Premier Farnell lose 60 staff from its 900-strong workforce.

The Dana corporation based in Ohio, America, employs around 80,000 people in 33 countries. Today Dana Spicer Europe spokesman Colin Towers said: “We have no comment to make. There will be no official release until next Monday.”

* UNEMPLOYMENT figures in Britain have risen for the first time in a year as the cuts in manufacturing jobs has finally fed through to official figures. The number of people claiming unemployment-related benefits rose by 4,300 in October to 951,100, a jobless rate of 3.2 per cent. It was the first time since last October that the claimant count figure has risen.

The Government’s preferred International Labour Organisation total, which includes jobless people not eligible for benefit, increased by 28,000 between July and September to 1,510,000.

However, in the Yorkshire and Humber region, the number of people out of work, according to the ILO figures, continues to fall. The regional figure fell by 16,000 to 135,000 between July and September, giving a jobless rate of 5.5 per cent. The region’s claimant count was 93,700, down 200, giving a rate of 3.9 per cent. Nationally, the number of people in work fell between July and September – down 24,000 to 28,152,000, because of a big reduction in the number of part-time workers.