Last week’s announcement that 1700 jobs are under threat at Hall’s of Broxburn came as a hammer blow to everyone in the town and the whole of West Lothian.
Hall’s is an iconic brand, well known to everyone in West Lothian and indeed across Scotland. Growing up in Broxburn, there were not many households without a connection to the business, which moved to the town in the 1960s. During my 25 years representing Broxburn as one of its local councillors, I visited the site on numerous occasions, meeting many of the staff and learning more about the factory’s operations.
I fully understand what a devastating prospect it is for the factory to be under threat and the huge anxiety it is causing Hall’s staff and their families. It has been a major and vital employer for hundreds of families over the years and an integral part of the wider local community. The effects of losing the jobs are absolutely unthinkable, not only for those at the factory, but for local traders as well. The community here is certainly shell-shocked, but I predict a massive local fightback in support of the workforce.
On Friday I joined fellow West Lothian Labour MP Michael Connarty to meet with union representatives from Usdaw and Unite, as well as the senior management on site at Hall’s. I listened to the concerns raised by the staff representatives and their determination to ensure that no stone is left unturned in the fight to save their jobs.
I was also disappointed to learn that Vion had only discussed its decision to consult on closing the plant with employees and union representatives at the very last moment. That delay is unacceptable. Given the scale of the potential job losses, I believe that the union representatives should have been engaged at a much earlier stage.
But this is only one of many issues which will need to be addressed with regards to how the situation at Hall’s has reached this crisis point. The role of the Scottish Government will have to be scrutinised, particularly in light of the fact it offered the company some £2 million of public funds last September to create new jobs and apprenticeships and secure existing jobs, a development the First Minister was happy to take credit for at the time.
However, the immediate priority must be securing a future for the plant and its workforce. Speaking to the staff at Hall’s last week just underlined the human impact that closing the factory would have. People talked about their fears for paying mortgages and bills, while the stagnation of the economy and general lack of work would make it doubly hard to find new jobs.
The Scottish Government has at least moved quickly to establish a task force to focus on saving the jobs, and I welcome that swift action. It is essential for Broxburn and the wider West Lothian economy that it focuses on finding an alternative solution to allow the plant to continue. But this crisis is of such great importance, not only for people at Hall’s and West Lothian but also for the Scottish pig industry, that I believe it is absolutely vital that First Minister Alex Salmond becomes personally involved now.
I will work with everyone concerned to do all that I can in my role as the local MP. I have already tabled a parliamentary early day motion (EDM) in the House of Commons on this issue today, to secure the support of fellow MPs and call on the UK Government to do whatever it can to help.
In the weeks ahead I will participate in the work of the task force to ensure that no option for securing a viable future for the plant is missed. I would also like to take this opportunity to say to all employees at Hall’s and other local people affected by this news, that I would welcome any suggestions for potential solutions. Please contact me with your thoughts and I will be very pleased to feed them into the task force’s considerations.
There is no doubt that what has unfolded at Hall’s in recent days is a real crisis. But with a united effort, I believe that a chance remains to ensure Hall’s of Broxburn has a future.
• Labour’s Graeme Morrice is the MP for Livingston.