OUP closure to end centuries-long print tradition

Jo Francis
Monday, June 7, 2021

UPDATED: Oxford University Press is planning to break a centuries-long tradition of printing by closing its Oxuniprint operation – a move slammed by union Unite as the “short-sighted and disloyal” result of outsourcing.

Oxuniprint is set to close at the end of August
Oxuniprint is set to close at the end of August

The history of Oxford University Press dates back to the earliest days of printing, with the first book printed in Oxford in 1478. 

It established its own press in 1585, although OUP stopped printing its own books in 1989.

The Oxuniprint site in Kidlington employs 20 staff and produces flyers, booklets, brochures, newsletters and magazines for internal and external clients. 

The firm’s website now carries the following notice of closure statement: “It is with sincere regret that we write to inform you that subject to consultation with affected employees it is intended that Oxuniprint Ltd will be closing permanently on 27 August 2021.

“Oxuniprint Ltd has been a leading lithographic and digital B2 printer providing quality print services to both local and national customers for many years. We are extremely proud of all that we have accomplished and could not be more thankful to you, our valued customers, for the support which we have received.

“From this point up until the date of closure we will no longer be accepting orders to our workbook. Post closure, and subject to consultation with affected employees, during September and October a small team will be working upon the reconciliation and settlement of our customer accounts.”

Unite claimed that the increased use of outsourcing, as well as a failure to take advantage of the government’s furlough scheme, had contributed to the situation.

Unite regional officer Kevin Whiffen said: “This is the final chapter in a distinguished printing history at the OUP, but we feel that there could have been a different outcome if OUP bosses had not been hell-bent on pursuing their outsourcing agenda and the inexplicable failure to utilise the job retention scheme for the Oxuniprint workers.

“We feel that our members have been badly let down by short-sighted and disloyal decisions of the OUP management towards a dedicated workforce sold out on the altar of outsourcing.

Unite said the broader trend towards outsourcing at OUP meant typesetting work was now mainly handled by suppliers in India and the Philippines, while warehouse storage and distribution has been “similarly almost entirely outsourced in the UK since 2019”.

“There is not much loyalty to the centuries-old printing heritage, and those who have given their working lives to it, in this world-renowned university city,” he added.

“The rationale given, that the existing contracts held by Oxuniprint cannot be relied upon in future, would be considerably more convincing if OUP itself hadn’t already approached Oxuniprint’s two largest clients – University of Oxford and the NHS – to advise them of the proposal to close the print house, prior to beginning the consultation with staff required by law.”

The Oxuniprint accounts are currently flagged as overdue at Companies House. In the year to 31 March 2019 the firm had sales of £2.86m and made an operating loss of £52,781. 

Four years ago the business upgraded its B2 printing capability with a five-colour Komori Lithrone S29 H-UV press.

The company is controlled by Oxford University Press, which is a department of the University of Oxford.

The University presses at Cambridge and Oxford University both date back to the reign of Elizabeth I. 

OUP is the largest university press in the world and publishes more than 6,000 titles a year in print and digital formats, and in more than 40 languages.

UPDATE: Statement from Oxford University Press

"Subject to consultation with affected employees, it is proposed that Oxuniprint Ltd will be closing for business on 27 August 2021. Oxuniprint has provided a valuable service to OUP, and to its wide range of clients, for many years. We are grateful to the whole team for their hard work and commitment over the years.  

"This decision follows a recent business review of our operations. Oxuniprint Ltd has seen a continued decline in sales, which has unfortunately been exacerbated by factors relating to the pandemic. This has not been an easy decision for us, and we thank the team for the support and dedication to OUP, and their clients, over the years."

OUP also said that Unite's claim that two customers were informed about the plans prior to the consultation was incorrect. 

"OUP acted lawfully and in good faith throughout the entire process. We complied with our collective consultation obligations and informed our consultative body, the Employee Engagement Forum, and Unite, of the proposal for Oxuniprint, which was followed by informing our impacted colleagues. We discussed the proposal with senior leaders at the University in the context of OUP being one of its departments. No other customer, including the NHS, was informed of our proposal before our announcement."

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