Abattoir subsidy is under the spotlight

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CUTTING financial support to the abattoir led to an exodus of livestock for export will cost that taxpayer more in the long run.

That was the message from Agriculture Minister Phil Gawne as he faced questioning by a Tynwald scrutiny committee over the levels of subvention to the government-owned abattoir.

Earlier this week, the meat plant announced that it was cutting 12 jobs as it could not sustain its level of losses. It faces further pressure in the months to come due to devastating losses of livestock during the worst snowfall in 50 years.

Figures released by Mr Gawne in a written reply to a House of Keys question from Michael MHK Alfred Cannan show the meat plant received direct subvention of £350,000 in 2008. 2009 and 2010 but in 2011 that figure fell to just £130,000. Last year, the level of subvention shot up to more than £700,000.

When Mr Gawne appeared before the environment and infrastructure policy review committee, he was asked by chairman Alex Downie about the ‘massive increase’ in subvention last year and why ‘huge’ amounts of stock had been exported off the island.

Mr Gawne said he had not understood why the level of subvention was cut in 2011, when he was not in charge of the department - and that it came as no surprise to him that year saw a significant increase in the number of animals exported.

He said the subvention had returned to a ‘more realistic’ figure in 2012 and largely down to that, there had been a significant reduction in the number of livestock exports.

‘As a result of the lack of investment in the 2011 calendar year we have created a £300,000 to £400,000 a year problem. We could have done this a lot cheaper if we had stuck to the original plan.’

Mr Gawne said a further £300,000 to £400,000 could be added to the figure as a result of the recent snow, which will result in fewer animals for slaughter.

He said: ‘We now have a considerably more efficient Meat Plant but we don’t have to numbers to keep it going. The figures we would have put in would have been substantially lower.’

The minister pointed out that the ‘woes’ of the meat plant were mirrored at abattoirs across the UK and Europe.

Isle of Man Meats and Mr Gawne’s department are still in talks about the extra funding that will be required following March’s heavy snowfall.

This, the worst such weather in 50 years, had resulted in the island losing 5 per cent of the total breeding herd of cattle and more than 10 per cent of the total breeding herd of sheep, the minister told the scrutiny committee at the hearing on Wednesday.

Confirming the 12 jobs losses at the abattoir, Isle of Man Meats chief executive John Dawkins said in a statement that ‘while the government would continue to support the plant long term it cannot sustain continuing losses of the size we have been experiencing’. He said it was essential the facilty became more efficient in its working processes.

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