By NEIL RIDDELL
Troubled agricultural co-operative Shetland Livestock Marketing Group (SLMG) has been given a further £20,000 towards its running costs and granted a further six weeks for consultants to come up with a radical report on the organisation’s future.
The money was approved in private at yesterday’s meeting of the development committee at Lerwick Town Hall after a request for more time from Scalloway-based consultants AB Associates, the company which had been charged with drawing up a rescue plan for SLMG.
Committee chairman Josie Simpson said there had been a lot of discussion and debate about SLMG during the closed-doors session but the money had been approved in line with the recommendation of the officials’ report.
He said: “It was felt that they hadn’t had time, the industry said at the time [when the initial £20,000 was agreed back in February] it was too short, so it’s just to take that forward, then the report will come before us, we’ll discuss it and see where we go from there.”
Members performed a U-turn back in February to deliver a financial lifeline, pumping in £20,000 to keep SLMG trading for two months and providing a further £10,000 grant towards the cost of putting together a plan for the future. A further £10,000 was contributed by SLMG’s own members.
Some councillors had initially used fears over EU state aid rules to resist giving SLMG the money, which chairman Ronnie Eunson said was vital to keep the organisation going after it was almost sunk by £48,000 of bad debt due to a shipment of lamb to Faroe not being paid for and unpaid invoices to a butcher which recently closed.
Mr Eunson said yesterday that the consultants had felt the scope of the report was “simply too big to be done in the period of time that the council allotted to it”. “I welcome the council’s support in this interim period,” he said. “My big concern at the moment is the fact that we now have no abattoir proposal to run with, because of the decision last week we’re in a bit of a hole, we have no control and we don’t know what the councillors are intending to do.”
After the planning board voted 5-3 to reject a proposal to convert the former No Catch fish processing factory in Scalloway into a new abattoir last Wednesday, applicants Shetland Abattoir Co-operative Limited (SACL) are waiting in the hope that members will decide to revisit the controversial decision at a meeting of the Full Council on 16th May, at which a further 13 councillors who do not sit on the planning board could be present.
Councillors dismissed the advice of their own officials that the proposal complied with planning guidelines to vote down plans to utilise the factory, which is situated among houses in East Voe, as an abattoir. The plans had sparked howls of protest from many local residents concerned at having such a facility so close to residential properties. If it is not revisited later this month, SACL may choose to launch an appeal against the decision.
Mr Eunson said the report on the future of SLMG and agriculture more generally, which will now go before councillors on 11th June, should present a comprehensive overview and identify a potential way forward for the industry.
He said: “The report will contain some very radical proposals with regard to the agricultural industry in Shetland and they’ll be asked to consider a completely different mechanism for dealing with agricultural development, so there will be fairly radical things. The decision will be fairly fundamental: it’s all a question of whether the council’s commitment towards agriculture justifies the radical nature of the proposal.”