U-turn over meat plant take-over?

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THE new Minister for Agriculture has signalled a possible u-turn over plans to safeguard the future of the island’s meat plant.

Last month a radical plan was announced to save the loss-making plant from closure by taking it into government ownership.

But just weeks into his new role as Minister for Environment, Food and Agriculture Phil Gawne has indicated that the take-over may not go ahead after all.

He said: ‘Clearly the department and the minister at the time (John Shimmin) thought it was the right thing to do. I’m not convinced it’s the wrong thing to do. But I don’t know.

‘The department had offered a solution but, excuse the pun, we don’t have enough meat on the bone to convince all the players in the industry to allow it to go forward. There’s a lot of uncertainty.’

Problems facing the island’s farming industry and the future of the meat plant were raised in the House of Keys last week when ‘serious failings’ in the industry were highlighted.

The ending of production subsidies had led to animals being exported for slaughter because farmers could get a better price in the UK.

Mr Gawne told MHKs: ‘We need to stop the haemorrhage of stock off the island.’

The meat plant is currently run by the Fatstock Marketing Association, which is a farmers’ co-operative. Despite major cost-cutting and government subsidy, the plant’s directors said the company would be insolvent within six months.

Government estimates suggested the facility would require a subsidy of £1m per year to continue running on its current basis.

The take-over proposal would see it taken into government ownership for three years to turn around its financial fortunes and make it profitable again.

Directors for the new company would be drawn from the existing board of directors with the addition of two government appointees.

Current staff at the meat plant would transfer to the new company.

The minister said he had already had several meetings with directors of the Fatstock Marketing Association and was working with the Manx National Farmers’ Union and others to try to ‘come up with a better solution than we currently have’ for the Meat Plant.

Earlier this year, some 15 jobs were lost at the abattoir after a turn-around team was brought into to stem the losses made by the plant.

l IS the minister right to review the plans for the meat plant just weeks after they were announced or is he creating unnecessary uncertainty? Tell us what you think by writing to Opinions, Isle of Man Examiner, Publishing House, Peel Road, Douglas, IM1 5PZ or emailing opinions@newsiom.co.im

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