In an interview on BBC Radio Scotland this morning, Finance Minister John Swinney said the Scottish government and enterprise agencies would talk to any interested parties to try to take forward any business propositions that would ensure continuity of the affected plants’ business operations. He highlighted the importance the Scottish government attached to ensuring that buyers are found quickly to give stability to the marketplace and certainty to the workers involved.
He said: “It is so important for the Scottish food sector, the Scottish agricultural sector and for the employees that are involved in each of these plants around the country, that we move quickly to conclude a sale process that will deliver some continuity in the marketplace.
“The important point is that we move quickly to find buyers quickly to remove uncertainty and ensure there are new bidders brought into the new plants and give confidence to employees in these plants.”
He argued that there was no reason for further jobs to be shed during the sale process, as Vion’s plants operated at the top end of ranges in established retailers and provided a foundation of quality and strength, which would make them an attractive propositions to bidders. However, he warned that Vion needed to engage “very actively” and openly to find suitable buyers, taking advice and consultation from the Scottish government.
He admitted that although the announcement that Vion was selling up wholesale had come out of the blue, the subject of the company’s long-term commitment to the UK had been a subject of “discussion” between the government and Vion, as the government sought to establish what the Dutch company’s long-term plans in Scotland were, although no answers were forthcoming.
Swinney said that Vion’s withdrawal from the UK posed a very different situation to its recent closure of the loss-making Hall’s of Broxburn plant, which had been advertised as a potential closure from the outset, rather than being offered for sale as a growing concern. He said Vion had been unsuccessful in strengthening the Hall’s of Broxburn plant, as it had made a “fundamental mistake” in over-expanding the plant’s size and scale beyond an unsustainable level, although sites such as that at Coupar Angus had benefited from stronger, more sustainable investment.
John Gorle, of national officer of union Usdaw, said he was “extremely concerned” by Vion’s decision, saying it had come out of the blue and would be a shock for its members and the company’s workforce.
He said: “There will undoubtedly be questions raised about the future viability of Vion’s UK food businesses, but Usdaw is firmly of the view that these can be secured with the right management, investment and strategic approach in place.
“Vion also has some explaining to do about its recent decision to close Hall’s of Broxburn. Today’s decision clearly hasn’t been made overnight and it makes the veracity of the consultation process at Hall’s questionable at best.”