Scottish Sea Farms is going to repay all money received from the UK government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme as markets re-open and business performance begins to show signs of bouncing back.
The company, which employs 111 people at its sites in Shetland, will pay back in full the furlough scheme funding, which provided vital support at the start of the Covid-19 restrictions, and will not be making any further claims.
Managing director Jim Gallagher said: “Both the UK and Scottish governments were quick to identify food producers as being key to the nation’s resilience during the crisis, so we have worked hard to put in place the protective measures necessary to enable us to operate safely and at near full capacity to help keep supplies of fresh farmed salmon flowing.
“However, for a small percentage of our staff, Covid-19 brought the need to shield, whether for their own protection or that of their loved ones. For others, it has required them to provide full-time care to their children who would otherwise be at nursery or school, making working impossible and furloughing the most practical option.”
Since March the company has furloughed 36 full-time and part-time staff – eight per cent of its 451-strong workforce in – under the job retention scheme, amounting to support in the region of £106,000 until end of June.
Throughout, these 36 furloughed staff have received 100 per cent of their basic pay; 80 per cent of which was provided by the HMRC and the remaining 20 per cent by Scottish Sea Farms.
Mr Gallagher said: “It was hugely important to us that these employees weren’t disadvantaged due to personal circumstances. The job retention scheme has helped ensure they could take the time needed to care for themselves and their families.”
He said although it was hard to predict when exactly it would be safe or practical for those furloughed to return to work as normal, Scottish Sea Farms was opting to cover the full cost of salaries.
Mr Gallagher said: “Trading has been exceptionally tough these last few months. On the one hand, panic-buying led to an initial bounce in domestic sales.
“On the other, our export markets all but closed resulting in reduced sales, increased freight and operating costs, and significantly reduced profits.
“Now, we’re starting to see a nice bounce in several of these same markets: France, Italy, Spain, Germany and even the Far East are all open again.
“There’s a long way to go but the business is in profit and as such we feel the money received via the job retention scheme would be better served invested in the country’s essential services and recovery.”
Mr Gallagher said repaying the furlough support received was just one of the ways the company hopes to contribute to Scotland’s renewal and recovery.
He added: “We’re opening new farms and working steadily to increase the number of fish grown, we’re committed to continuing our investment in our farming infrastructure and approaches, and we’ll place much of this investment with the local supply chain.
“All of that will translate into more well-paid, highly-skilled jobs and additional revenue, both for the Scottish economy at large and the many remote and rural communities in which we work.”