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Jobs axed at Sharp solar panel site
Hundreds of jobs at a solar panel factory are set to be lost after electronics firm Sharp announced plans to cease production at its facility in Wrexham, North Wales.
Bosses at the electrical giant have blamed "unavoidable market conditions" in their decision to cut 250 posts and not to renew around 350 agency workers' contracts.
Company CEO Hiroshi Sasaoka said a 30% drop in the unit price of European solar panels since the start of 2012 had left Wrexham's output uncompetitive in the UK.
He said: "It is with sincere regret we have decided to end solar panel production in Wrexham.
"Our employees are our greatest asset, and we have been fortunate to have a loyal, hard-working and committed workforce since we began solar production here in 2004.
"The Wrexham facility will continue to produce microwave ovens, and we will be investigating additional products for development."
Mr Sasaoka stressed that Sharp's European solar business was currently in the process of "transforming" to ensure "regeneration and long-term growth".
The news, which came nine days before Christmas, has been described as a hammer blow by community leaders, union officials and Wales' Business Minister, Edwina Hart.
Mrs Hart said: "This is very worrying news for the company's employees and their families especially coming just a week before Christmas.
"Severe competition in the UK and European solar markets, combined with wider financial pressures, have forced the company to take this difficult decision.
"Sharp has stated its current solar operation in Wrexham is unsustainable but has told us they will be investigating additional products for development at the site.
"Welsh Government officials will be exploring all potential options to support the site and in the meantime our partners will do all we can to support those who are facing redundancy."
That sentiment was also echoed by local MP Ian Lucas.
He said: " The loss of 615 jobs at Sharp is a hammer blow to Wrexham.
"May I say how sorry I am for those who are losing their jobs in the run up to Christmas and I will work with Wrexham Council and all local agencies to support them at this difficult time."
Production of solar panels at the factory in Llay is set to cease in February.