News that De La Rue has lost the contract to produce UK passports caused the company’s share price to fall by more than 5% in early trading. The company, which is more than 200 years old, describes itself as the world’s largest commercial producer of currency and passports and claims to supply products to two-thirds of all countries.
Domestically, the company has contracts with the Bank of England, Bank of Scotland, Clydesdale Bank and Royal Bank of Scotland to produce the newer polymer bank notes. It has been introducing the technology around the world, with Botswana and the Maldives other countries to have made the switch. De La Rue also prints money for Qatar, Kuwait, the Bahamas and the Seychelles, among others.
The biggest concern over the loss of the UK passport contract centres on the company’s printing plant in Gateshead where it employs 600 people, of whom about 100 are thought to work in the passport division. The company has not said these jobs have been put at risk.
The chief executive, Martin Sutherland, said: “We have a very skilled, proud workforce in Gateshead and I am going to have face those workers, look at them in the whites of the eyes and try to explain to them why the British government thinks it’s a sensible decision to buy French passports not British passports.
“I would like to invite Theresa May or Amber Rudd to come to my factory and explain to my dedicated workforce why they think this is a sensible decision to offshore the manufacture of a British icon.”
As well as UK passports, the company manufactures identity documents and e-passports for countries as far apart as Trinidad and Tobago, Qatar and Afghanistan. On occasion it also uses its printing presses to make special-edition bank notes. A Star Wars note issued in support of the Together For Short Lives charity raised more than £185,000 in an eBay auction in November.
De La Rue printers have a long history, going back to 1813 when Thomas de la Rue published the first edition of the Guernsey newspaper Le Miroir Politique. Within eight years, De la Rue had established himself in London as a printer and stationer.
By 1855 the company was printing postage stamps, and in 1860 it began printing money, at first for Mauritius. Over the years it has also manufactured playing cards, board games and fountain pens.
De La Rue was part of the Camelot consortium that bid for the first UK national lottery contracts in the 1990s. It sold its interest in Camelot in 2010.
The company will post its latest financial results next month, and has said profits are expected to be at the lower end of previous estimates.