Executive under fire for "help" to multinationals – Fishupdate.com

Executive under fire for “help” to multinationals Published:  01 May, 2006

INDEPENDENT salmon farmers in Scotland have branded as a ‘disgrace’ a

Scottish Executive offer to help the multinational companies behind the merger of the world’s largest salmon farming companies. Pan Fish has agreed to buy Marine Harvest and Fjord Seafood, making the new company the largest producer of Atlantic salmon and there are fears that hundreds of salmon farming jobs will be lost in Scotland.

Last week depute environment and rural development minister Rhona Brankin said the new company would control around 50% of salmon production in Scotland. The independent sector said that this was an underestimate and that the correct figure was around 65%. They are concerned that the independent sector, said by the depute minister to control around 15% of production in Scotland, will shrink even further and is in danger of disappearing. But what has increased concern and aroused the anger of independent salmon farmers is Ms Brankin’s statement that, “Ministers have invited the company to meet and discuss their future plans for Scottish operations and how the public sector (including Highlands and Islands Enterprise) might help to ensure continued success.”

Angus MacMillan, who owns Western Isles based West Minch Salmon, said: “We have already seen the effect of the previous merger between Marine Harvest and Stolt in the Western Isles. Marine Harvest closed its processing factory in Stornoway in 2003, and a state-of-the-art factory belonging to Stolt in Scalpay was closed last year. That cost over one hundred jobs, but what many people didn’t see was the loss of hundreds of more jobs after that, when people’s attention had moved away. It is strange that Rhona Brankin is now saying she wants to help the merger of these companies. People are still asking what happened to all the public cash that Stolt got when they were building their factory in Scalpay. I don’t think that anyone in the Highlands will see it appropriate that the Executive is seeking to support this merger. It is frightening for the rest of the industry that the minister wants to offer help at this time.”

He said that the offer was particularly galling because of the obstacles placed in the way of independent companies who had gone to the Executive and HIE for financial help to enable them to survive a period of low salmon prices and to put in place efficiency plans and proposals to develop their businesses. Angus MacMillan said: “We wanted some working capital assistance, and we have been waiting for two years, with no result. We started talks with HIE, but it appears that HIE is blocking progress, while foreign companies are expanding with the help of HIE and cutting down jobs in remote areas in the Highlands and Islands. Have they asked themselves if these multinational companies will still be here in a year’s time? Everyone knows they are expanding in Norway and Chile where the regulatory system is far easier and they won’t think twice about pulling out of Scotland when it suits them and moving elsewhere.”

Mr MacMillan said that the independent sector could still compete if it was given an even break by the Executive. “We can compete, because the smaller companies are supplying different markets to the markets served by the larger companies. We need capital assistance and we need sites which were leased by the big companies, Marine Harvest, Pan Fish and Fjord Seafood, but which are now lying unused, to be freed up for the smaller companies. They aren’t willing to give them up, but they could be put under pressure by the Crown Estate, the LECs, the local authorities and the Executive and forced to give up unused sites. At the moment we find it strange that there is so little support for Scottish-based companies, when the Executive seems very willing to help Norwegian-owned companies which threaten the future of the Scottish industry,” he said.

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