Report puts supermarket forward as a possible saviour for Hall’s

Dutch food company Vion has warned that it could be forced to close its West Lothian plant
Dutch food company Vion has warned that it could be forced to close its West Lothian plant
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A NATIONAL supermarket chain has been put forward as the possible saviour of the threatened Hall’s of Broxburn meat factory.

The processing plant in West Lothian is facing closure with the loss of 1700 jobs after owners Vion Foods said it was making losses of £79,000 a day.

A Scottish Government task force has been set up to try and save the plant, and avert the catastrophic effect its closure would have on both the local economy and the Scottish farming industry, with Hall’s slaughtering around 75 per cent of all pigs produced north of the border.

Now an academic report has suggested that Morrisons could be an unlikely saviour for the factory, as part of its plans to become the UK’s biggest fresh food manufacturer by 2015.

The supermarket 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.

Andrew Bowman, of Manchester University, who has conducted a survey of the British pigmeat industry, said the model used by Morrisons was a bright spot in the troubled sector. “I am sure that Morrisons drive a hard bargain with farmers and with their workforce. But it is a model which provides greater stability for the supply chain,” he said

The report by Dr Bowman also suggested that ministers examine the possibility of tax breaks to supermarkets that support the UK meat industry.

His study recommended retailers be offered incentives such as lower corporation tax rates if they set up a steady chain of supply from producers and farmers in this country.

A spokesman for Morrisons yesterday refused to comment, but the purchase of the plant would be consistent with their recent strategy. Meanwhile, Vion is facing questions over why it invested £11.5m in new equipment for its factory in Cookstown, Northern Ireland.

Linlithgow Labour MP Michael Connarty said: “It seems Vion have a double strategy which favours investment in Northern Ireland.”

It has emerged the closure of the plant may not happen until after the lucrative Christmas season at the earliest. If it does close however, there are fears the work will be transferred to a Vion plant in Yorkshire, adding to transportation costs for Scottish pig farmers.

A ministerial task force has been set up ahead of a 90-day consultation period as the Scottish Government tries to find a way of keeping the plant open.

However, analysts are warning that the ageing nature of the processing plant makes it deeply unproductive and believe there will be few private sector firms willing to take it on in its present form, without major government support.