Working group formed after emergency economic summit

Cabinet secretary for tourism and the rural economy, Fergus Ewing.

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A working group has been formed following an emergency economic summit held in Kintyre on Monday which resulted in ‘a wide-ranging and largely positive discussion’, according to Fergus Ewing MSP.

Mr Ewing, the Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy, was joined at the meeting at Machrihanish Airbase Community Company (MACC) by about 50 people, including local councillors and many local business owners.

The meeting was called after First Milk announced its intention to close Campbeltown Creamery the same week as CS Wind UK revealed it could make up to 80 per cent of its workforce redundant.

Speaking to the Courier after the meeting, Mr Ewing said: ‘Our thoughts are with the employees at the creamery and CS Wind who have lost or may face losing their jobs shortly, at a tough time of year for themselves and their families, but a number of positives have arisen.’

Those include the involvement of the Scottish Government’s Partnership Action for Continuing Employment (PACE) initiative, a national service which provides one-to-one support for those who face redundancy or are made redundant; local businesses taking ‘a close interest’ in providing what help they can to affected employees; and the formation of a working group, a collaboration between the Scottish Government, local councillors and Highlands and Islands Enterprise.

‘The PACE team has already had meetings with staff at both employers to offer one-to-one support for those who wish it,’ said Mr Ewing. ‘They have a very good record – 80 per cent of people who engage their services find other employment or opportunities, so this is not a talking shop, this is very personalised support for each individual person and it’s available to anyone else who hasn’t already accessed it.’

Of the working group, Mr Ewing said: ‘We’ve agreed to work together to focus in the short-term on providing further opportunities through the local business network.

‘And also working in the longer term on opportunities for the area, principally in areas such as increased transport and connectivity and in the work that is being done by the likes of MACC.’

He added: ‘There were a number of individual suggestions that were made which are also being pursued regarding threats and opportunities in farming, fishing, whisky, food and drink.’

Mr Ewing has agreed to attend another meeting of the working group, set to take place in the first quarter of next year, something he says demonstrates the Scottish Government’s commitment to securing the future of Kintyre’s economy.

Councillor Donald Kelly, who suggested reforming a working group similar to the former Kintyre Initiative Working Group which he once chaired, said he has ‘no time for meetings which are just talking shops and do not deliver outcomes’.

He added: ‘I requested that the council officers present revisit the blueprint of the recently awarded Rural Growth Deal and make provision within in it to look at potential new projects for South Kintyre such as a creamery or a community-led distillery.

‘As far as CS Wind is concerned, the Scottish Government should be leaving no stone unturned to preserve the dedicated and skilled workforce at the facility, especially if it is serious about meeting Scotland’s emission targets.

‘If there is a hiatus regarding orders for the next three or four months, the government should be stepping in and paying the wages in order to retain the workforce and preserve jobs in a similar fashion to the Clyde ferry debacle earlier this year.’

A Scottish Government spokesperson told the Courier: ‘We have explored all areas where we can assist CS Wind to retain its workforce, such as funding infrastructure improvements to lower transport costs, but the Scottish Government does not have a legal route to gap fund manufacturing itself as this would constitute a breach of State Aid regulations.’

Mr Ewing added that while £50 million has been secured through the Rural Growth Deal, the projects it will benefit have not yet been finalised.

Councillor John Armour said: ‘I thought the summit was very worthwhile and gave local businesses the opportunity to suggest alternative and new ways forward.

‘I was encouraged by the positivity and ideas from those who spoke about future employment in the area but that is in the medium to long-term.

‘In the short-term it is essential that the working group or similar is set up as soon as possible to look at long-term and sustainable jobs coming to and staying in South Kintyre. This group must not be a talking shop but must come up with solutions and act on them.’

Councillor Rory Colville said: ‘South Kintyre is ready for investment. It has products, people and natural resources that could deliver business growth, jobs and success.

‘It will take the public and private sectors working together to achieve that, so I welcome Mr Ewing’s commitment, as Cabinet Secretary for Rural Growth, to remaining involved in supporting South Kintyre’s future.

‘I look forward to the summit’s follow-up meeting next year to develop longer term actions.’

The staff consultation process at CS Wind is still ongoing until November 29.

A First Milk spokesperson told the Courier this week that it has concluded its own staff consultations and confirmed that the site will now close.

Cheese production has stopped and most members of staff were expected to leave today, Friday November 22, while a few will remain for a few weeks to prepare and secure the site for closure.

He added: ‘We recognise that this is a difficult time and we continue to offer support to affected staff.’