We can’t rule out Hall’s takeover, says Morrisons

Hall's plant in Broxburn is set to close with the loss of 1,700 jobs. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Hall's plant in Broxburn is set to close with the loss of 1,700 jobs. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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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”.