SUPERMARKET giant Morrisons has not ruled out a takeover bid for the closure-threatened Hall’s of Broxburn meat factory, where up to 1,700 jobs are at risk.
The Bradford-based retail chain, which has recently been adding to its portfolio of meat and fish processing factories, has been tipped by experts as a possible investor for the ailing West Lothian firm.
West Lothian Council leaders issued a statement after an emergency meeting yesterday, highlighting their “extreme concern” over the threat to the factory.
The council has agreed to write to the Vion food group, the parent company of Hall’s, demanding an explanation for the crisis. Vion has said it was making losses of £79,000 a day at the factory.
Council leader John McGinty said: “West Lothian Council executive notes with extreme concern the proposal by Vion to close the Hall’s of Broxburn plant with the loss of more than 1,700 jobs, which would have a devastating impact on local people, families, communities and businesses.”
He continued: “The council’s focus is on Vion retaining jobs at the Broxburn plant. We have asked for a full explanation of how this situation came about and we are pressing Vion to
ensure that every option is fully explored.”
Meanwhile, Morrisons refused to discuss a possible rescue package for Hall’s, but a spokesman refused to rule out a takeover bid for the site.
When asked about a possible bid by supermarkets, the company spokesman said: “We don’t comment on speculation about potential acquisitions.”
Morrisons has already bought one plant in England from Dutch firm Vion, and has set aside £200 million to increase its stock of processing plants over the next three years.
The company also bought a fish processing plant in Grimsby in a multi-million-pound deal.
Morrisons already owns meat processing sites in Turriff in Aberdeenshire, Colne in Lancashire and Spalding in Lincolnshire.
The Scottish Government yesterday refused to say whether First Minister Alex Salmond and finance secretary John Swinney, who both visited Hall’s last week, had been in contact with Morrisons.
Mr Salmond used his visit to say that he would “personally” be prepared to help find a buyer for the factory to save the 1,700 jobs at risk.
Speculation about the possible involvement of Morrisons came after an academic report from Andrew Bowman, of Manchester University, that suggested the supermarket chain could buy Hall’s as part of its plans to become the UK’s biggest fresh food manufacturer by 2015.
He said: “I am sure that Morrisons drives a hard bargain with farmers and with their workforce. But it is a model which provides greater stability for the supply chain.”
Tracy Gilbert, an organiser
for the Usdaw union at Hall’s,
described Morrisons as a “fantastic business” but dismissed a possible takeover as “just speculation”.
Meanwhile, Scottish Labour’s finance spokesman, Ken Macintosh, said that it was “essential that all avenues to keep the
factory open are pursued”.
Vion Food UK, which owns Hall's of Broxburn, said the plant was loss-making despite heavy investment in the site over the last four years.
The company said it was beginning a 90-day consultation exercise with workers and unions at its West Lothian site.
Finance Secretary John Swinney visited the factory on Thursday afternoon and set up a public/private sector taskforce designed to safeguard jobs and opportunities for the food industry.
Speaking after its first meeting in Broxburn, Mr Swinney said: "The taskforce agreed that its key focus is maintaining continuity of business at Hall's of Broxburn and we are entirely committed to that exercise.
"We have drawn together all of the relevant government agencies, local agencies and political representatives to focus on ensuring we deliver a positive economic future for the workforce and community of Broxburn.
The taskforce has had a positive start and will take forward a number of practical actions before re-convening on July 30."
The taskforce is comprised of company representatives, Usdaw (the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers), West Lothian Council, the local MP and MSP, Scottish Enterprise, Scottish Development International, Skills Development Scotland, Job Centre Plus and Quality Meat Scotland.
Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead met the National Farmers' Union in Scotland, Quality Meat Scotland and Scottish Pig Producers.
He said: "Today has been a difficult day for both the West Lothian and the wider Scottish community - particularly the pig sector and agricultural industry.
Hall's is a major food business in a major Scottish sector and the taskforce has been set up to ensure this can continue."
Vion UK chairman Peter Barr said the company has been making "huge" losses and had no alternative but to close.
He said: "Every possible step has been taken to secure the future of the business but we are currently losing £79,000 per day at the site, which is clearly unsustainable"
The factory was bought by Vion Food Group in August 2008 and currently employs 1,150 permanent and 595 agency staff.
It is a major processing facility for Scottish pork used to make sausages and other meat products, handling around 8,000 pigs each week.
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Source: the scotsman
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