A Boddam slaughterhouse firm has still not met the conditions attached to a £450,000 grant from the SIC to upgrade its premises.
There are now fears that Pure Shetland Lamb is unlikely to be able to do so before an EU-imposed December deadline for such assistance.
The company was awarded the money in June last year to improve its abattoir after the EU relaxed state aid rules prohibiting assistance to companies in difficulty in the wake of the financial crisis. But a condition attached to the grant stipulated that the cash would only be paid out once Pure Shetland Lamb had cleared outstanding debts to crofters and that has yet to happen.
Those who were owed money for livestock by owners Magnie Smith and his son George were told to get in touch with the council’s economic development a year ago. Councillors were told last August that 63 claims totalling around £40,000 had been made, but it is understood the total figure owed is now somewhere in the region of £70,000.
During last week’s meeting of the development committee, Lerwick North councillor Caroline Miller asked whether the grant “should be taken off the agenda if it’s not going to proceed?” She was informed by head of economic development Neil Grant that, while none of the preconditions have been met and there “will come a point” where that has to be considered, “we need to let it run a little bit”.
However, with no planning application yet submitted to upgrade the Boddam slaughterhouse, one source said they believed there was “not a cat’s chance in hell” of the work being completed in the available timeframe. At the behest of SIC convener Sandy Cluness, Mr Grant may speak to the European Commission to see if it will consider extending the deadline if that is deemed necessary.
Mr Smith Snr insisted to The Shetland Times this week that, while things had been taking longer than had been anticipated, he remained confident that all the work could be completed before the deadline in just over seven months’ time.
“There’s been various obstacles to overcome but we’re very close to lift-off,” he said. “We have to settle creditors, we’ve got to get planning permission, various things – we won’t do one of them until we’re absolutely certain we can do all of them. We’ll not start until we can see there is a clear way to finish, and that’s basically what we’ve been doing.”
He said the way the extension to the slaughterhouse was being designed meant construction work could be completed in two months. “That’s not an issue,” he said. “It’s not a new build, it’s just an extension [so securing planning permission] will take a little time but unless somebody plays silly buggers with us it shouldn’t be a problem. It’s taken longer than we would have liked but we’re still very much in the frame to be finished before the end of the year.”
Councillors were also updated on progress with Shetland Abattoir Co-operative Limited (SACL), which is now very close to tendering for work on its building at Staney Hill. Mr Grant said that though the timescale was “very tight” all indications were that SACL should be able to have its building up before the end of the year. SACL, which was awarded assistance of up to £437,525 last August, has also appointed Martin Tregonning as a non-executive director.