By RYAN TAYLOR Efforts to secure the long-term future of the struggling Shetland Livestock Marketing Group (SLMG) co-operative have intensified with local independent consultancy firm AB Associates appointed to carry out a review of its operations to help it build up a viable business plan.
The Scalloway firm has been appointed by the group’s chairman Ronnie Eunson amid continuing concerns that the loss-making organisation, which runs the Shetland marts and the abattoir at Laxfirth, could go under. After lengthy debate SLMG was thrown a £20,000 lifeline by the council back in February to help it survive in the short-term.
However that money was only enough to buy the group time to come up with a more sturdy business strategy.
A series of public meetings were swiftly organised to help gather views from the crofting and farming communities. Now the results from that research will feed in to the consultancy firm’s review, although AB Associates said this week that any new ideas can still be put forward to them.
Mr Eunson said it was only right that the review should be handed to an independent organisation.
“I felt it was very important that we get professional guidance on producing a review that the council, as the lead funding agency, would find comfortable.
“We could sit here and write a review ourselves but I think it’s very important to get a third party objective assessment involved, and then people will feel more content that all the issues are being considered.”
Even with the help of AB Associates, SLMG has been left with very little time to build up a case for future investment.
The group now intends to meet councillors later this month with an interim report on the organisation’s plans.
“We have been given assistance by Shetland Islands Council on the basis the review produces a more sustainable business plan in the long term,” said Mr Eunson.
“That is a very tall order when you are carrying out a review in the middle of calving and lambing time. I feel it’s very important that folk feel they have been given the opportunity to create a better organisation.
“Clearly time is against us, and it’s not a good time of year for the agricultural community to be involved in this, but needs must. The clear message from our accountants was that we would have to cease trading unless we could come up with a plan they were comfortable with.
“Unfortunately the time-scale that the SIC has given us boils down to about four weeks. The problem with that is the time-scale is far too short to do a proper job.”
He said feedback from the crofting community following the public meetings held in Gutcher, Voe and Cunningsburgh had been “very positive”, and said he had not met anyone who said they did not want SLMG to continue.
“I’ve heard criticisms but they are not numerous. We will focus on the best aspects of SLMG. I’m very optimistic that a plan can be devised to make this a more sustainable part of the industry.”
Mr Eunson said the co-op added “hugely” to the local agricultural sector, and added he hoped the council would recognise that.
“It’s a question of what will is there on behalf of the council to put a mechanism in place. It adds hugely to the local economy to have a co-op operating the marts and an abattoir.”
â€¢ Anyone wishing to contribute suggestions to the review process should contact Andrew Blackadder at AB Associates on (01595) 880852, or email Andrew@abassociatesltd.com before April 17th.