WE’RE sorry – but we won’t be the last business to pull out of Southampton.

That is the bleak warning from bosses of a UK transport firm after they announced plans to close a city depot.

As revealed in yesterday’s Daily Echo staff at Elite Transport Services were hit by the “heartless” festive bombshell when they were told just days before Christmas that they would be losing their jobs.

The 50 workers were informed at a crunch meeting on Saturday that the company is closing two of its six depots, in Southampton and Felixstowe, due to a drop in business.

But owners of the haulage firm have today assured employees at the Eling Wharf site in Totton that they will receive statutory redundancy payments.

David White, owner of Elite Transport Services, said the depot had become “financially unviable”, claiming that trade at the city’s port had plunged by around eight per cent per year over the past 24 months.

Mr White added: “The reason for the closure is that the Southampton port has been very quiet. “It was costing us a fortune to keep Southampton and Felixstowe open. It was a drastic situation. We expected things to pick up during the Christmas quarter, but they haven’t.

“The bottom line is there just isn’t enough business coming through Southampton’s port any more. It does not look good there at the moment and I’m sure we won’t be the last company to leave.”

In a message to those who have lost their jobs Mr White added: “We are sorry that it’s come to this, but we had to make a decision. This has allowed us to keep operating as a company and keep 170 out of 250 jobs.

“Those involved will be getting redundancy payments through the Government scheme.

“We aren’t trying to do anyone over.

The drivers are being paid for the work they have done and we will be working with them to make sure they get the redundancy payments they are entitled to.”

Doug Morrison, ABP port director for Southampton, said: “Rail has increased its share of the container transportation market from 27 per cent to around 36 per cent, so you can see where Mr White is getting this eight per cent drop from.

“Yes, times are hard at the moment and the haulage industry is finding it particularly tough with the cost of fuel and competing with rail. But the container terminal continues to be busy and I am confident that next year we will see growth in the container business – that’s why we are making such an investment in the port.

“There are a lot of haulage firms that continue to do well despite the economic climate and I have no concerns about any more of them leaving Southampton.”