Vion Food Group (Job Losses)

– in the Scottish Parliament at 5:00 pm on 19th March 2009.

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Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party 5:00 pm, 19th March 2009

The final item of business today is a members' business debate on motion S3M-3268, in the name of James Kelly, on the loss of jobs at Vion, Cambuslang. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes with concern the announcement by the Vion Food Group that 150 people are to be made redundant at the Grampian Country Foods factory in Cambuslang; recognises that this announcement has resulted from a reduction in orders from Marks and Spencer, and hopes that every assistance will be offered to the company, trade unions and the workforce at this difficult time.

Photo of James Kelly James Kelly Labour 5:08 pm, 19th March 2009

I welcome the opportunity to open the members' business debate on the proposed loss of jobs at Vion in Cambuslang. I thank all the MSPs from different political parties who signed the motion and the MSPs who wrote in support of the workforce.

The redundancies, 150 of them in Cambuslang, were proposed in January as part of a loss of 820 jobs in the Vion Food Group. The main reason for the redundancies was the withdrawal of contracts by Marks and Spencer. There are 450 jobs in the factory and it is proposed that 150 of them be cut. If the job losses go ahead, the effect on Cambuslang will be devastating. Vion is one of the largest employers in the area, and it has a history that goes back more than 25 years—initially, the company was called Chunky Chicken, then it was called Grampian Foods.

As the constituency MSP for the area, I am concerned about the human cost of the potential loss of jobs and the stress that individuals and families will be under as people try to chase alternative employment. Earlier in the week we heard that 10 people are chasing every vacancy. I do not want that to happen in Cambuslang; it would have an adverse effect on the local economy and a knock-on effect in areas such as the neighbouring town of Rutherglen.

Unite has fought a strong campaign against the proposed job losses, which has been headed up by Scott Walker and Tom McAndrew, the local shop stewards, who I am delighted to say are in the public gallery this evening, and they have been well supported by local politicians, including Tommy McAvoy MP and Walter Brogan and Richard Tullet—two of the local councillors in the Cambuslang East ward. I am also delighted to say that we have had support from other MSPs and that the stewards were recently visited by Margaret Curran MSP and Catherine Stihler MEP.

Situations such as the one that we are discussing should make us glad that there are trade unions. Decisions to cut jobs have a bad effect on the community and the workforce, and there is a requirement on trade unions to organise in workplaces and take a stand against decisions that will adversely affect working people.

I understand that commercial organisations will make decisions based on viability, but Marks and Spencer, like other retail organisations, is pushing an ethical trading policy and talking up social responsibility. I would argue that one of the reasons why it is doing that is to try to attract customers to its stores and, therefore, to boost its income—but it cannot have it both ways; it cannot talk up ethical trading and claim to be socially responsible while it is taking a decision that will rip the heart out of Cambuslang. I challenge Marks and Spencer to reverse its decision.

I welcome the responses that I and other MSPs have received about partnership action on continuing employment—PACE—and alternative markets, but I think that the Scottish Government could have done more. In October, Richard Lochhead announced investment in the food industry of £75 million over five years, but none of that money has come to Cambuslang. In the latest tranche of grants, £230,000 has gone to factories in John Swinney's constituency and more than £360,000 has gone to a factory in Alex Salmond's constituency.

I would also be interested to know what pressure ministers have exerted on Marks and Spencer. I ask the minister to say in his summing-up speech whether there have been any meetings between Government officials or ministers and representatives of Marks and Spencer in the past fortnight and whether the concerns of the workforce in Cambuslang have been raised with Marks and Spencer.

I welcome the fact that, this morning, John Swinney agreed to meet the local trade unions, although I note that the request for that meeting was submitted a month ago. I think that progress has been a bit slow in that regard. It seems to me that other areas have taken priority over Cambuslang. I note the closure of NCR in Dundee and I wish the Dundee community well and hope that their jobs are safeguarded. The Minister for Enterprise, Energy and Tourism was quick to get to Dundee, but it has taken me a month to get that meeting with local unions at Cambuslang.

The motion provides a platform from which to support the workforce at Cambuslang and challenge Marks and Spencer to reverse its decision. I demand that the Government make money available to support the workers at Cambuslang, who have helped to build an industry that is worth £7.5 billion to the Scottish economy.

Photo of Anne McLaughlin Anne McLaughlin Scottish National Party 5:15 pm, 19th March 2009

I congratulate James Kelly on securing the debate and I thank him for doing so. We would all prefer to talk about good news, but by debating the issue we are saying to the workers at Vion that we will unite and work together to do what we can to stand up for people who are threatened with unemployment.

In the context of the economic downturn that has gripped the nation and the world, the week started with slightly more positive news. Although there is no denying the job losses in this country, Scotland's strong public sector and rural and energy industries have somewhat cushioned the impact of big job losses in, for example, the finance sector. Scotland's unemployment rate is 5.1 per cent, compared with the United Kingdom average of 6.5 per cent. I know that that is small comfort to the 5.1 per cent, who are struggling to pay mortgages, take care of essential bills and keep their families afloat.

Just as one unemployed person is one too many, every job saved is extremely important to the person whose job it is. The job market's volatility was brought to our attention all too clearly in January, when Vion announced that it would cut 800 jobs in the UK, including 150 jobs at the factory in Cambuslang. The Grampian Country Foods factory, which was taken over by Vion only recently, is an institution in the town. It has been producing food for Marks and Spencer for more than 20 years and is known for its high-quality produce. I know about that because I stood twice as the Scottish National Party candidate in constituencies that cover Rutherglen and Cambuslang—once in a Westminster election and once in a Scottish Parliament election, when James Kelly was election agent for his predecessor, Janis Hughes. The debate must focus on how we can work collectively for the workers to prevent as many job losses as possible. I have written to the unions tonight to offer whatever personal support I can give them.

The threatened job losses are the result of M and S's failure to renew its contract, as James Kelly said, which demonstrates how local businesses suffer as a result of the failings of big corporations. Grampian Country Foods has had a relationship with M and S for more than 20 years. The failure to renew the contract does not seem to be the best way for a company whose pre-tax profits last year were £1 billion to treat workers who have contributed so significantly to its success.

I was genuinely pleased to read in this week's Rutherglen Reformer—a newspaper in which I have had many a public debate with the aforementioned Tommy McAvoy—that James Kelly has acknowledged the positive steps that the SNP Government is taking to try to stave off the worst effects of the recession in Rutherglen and Cambuslang. He did not do so again today. However, he told the newspaper:

"It is good news ... that ... there will be 7,800 additional apprentices."

It is unfortunate that those apprenticeships will not all be in Rutherglen and Cambuslang—that would be good—but it is clear that the area will benefit. In the same article, James Kelly mentioned the town centre regeneration fund, on which my colleague Bob Doris has been working with the Minister for Housing and Communities, Alex Neil. I am sure that Rutherglen and Cambuslang will have a chance to access that fund of £60 million, given what has happened in their main streets in recent months.

I do not want to get into a David Cameron and Jim Sheridan-style competition, but I will say that I know exactly how unemployment affects individuals, because I was unemployed for two years after I graduated in the 1980s. I was unemployed, claiming benefit, desperate for a job and unable to get one. Money is a major problem for a person who is signing on, but the psychological damage is equally a problem. Work is about more than wages: it is about having a reason to get up in the morning and a routine; it is about knowing who you are and what your place is in society. That is why we must fight the job losses. I will work with anyone to do that. We must also have support in place for people so that their unemployment is short term rather than long term. I will work closely with other members to do whatever I can to prevent jobs being lost at Vion.

Photo of John Park John Park Labour 5:19 pm, 19th March 2009

I welcome the debate and congratulate James Kelly on bringing it to the chamber. In these testing times, it is important that we debate issues that are significant, that resonate outside the chamber and that are relevant to people facing redundancy or risks to their employment. It is also important that MSPs and the Government act on such discussions.

I declare an interest as a member of Unite, which has supported local union representatives in the Cambuslang jobs campaign from day one. That sort of support is important, but Unite is probably stretched across Scotland and the UK just now in supporting individual shop stewards, conveners and members on significant job issues. I support James Kelly's comments on the work of Scott Walker, whom I met during the campaign. I acknowledge the work that conveners and shop stewards do on the ground to ensure that their members' views are represented more widely and taken into consideration.

A key issue in this case is the role of Marks and Spencer, but the wider issue is where Government money goes and how we can use procurement to support employment and good employment practice in Scotland. Both public and private sectors can play a role in that, but we can ensure that money that goes into private sector activity supports employment and gives people the best training opportunities. We can also ensure through such money that employers conduct themselves appropriately.

Like others, I am a bit concerned about Marks and Spencer's conduct, which we need to look at closely. James Kelly raised a relevant point about dialogue between the Scottish Government and Marks and Spencer. I would be interested to hear the minister's response on that. I would hope that, when there are job losses on the scale of those in Cambuslang, there would be discussions between the Government and private sector employers such as Marks and Spencer. If the minister cannot do so tonight, I hope that he can share with us in future the nature of any discussions and their outcomes.

We face job losses not only at Vion but at NCR and Freescale, and we face potential job losses in the banking sector. As James Kelly said, the minister was in Dundee this week. It is right that he should speak to NCR, the community and the business community there, but we must ensure that the Scottish Government response is consistent because more and more job losses will be announced. The minister will be very busy over the next few months ensuring that the Scottish Government's response is consistent and robust enough to support local workers and build confidence in any actions that are taken.

Anne McLaughlin touched on apprenticeships. They are an important issue, which is why we focused on them in the budget process. The issue is not just apprenticeships for school leavers but adult apprenticeships and the provision of opportunities for adults. Undoubtedly over the next few months, and probably over the next year or so, people will lose employment in sectors that are in decline. We will need to support those sectors and help people to find new opportunities. That is why adult apprenticeships are very important.

Taking the opportunity to talk more widely about employment, I wonder whether the minister can say anything about the summit on manufacturing, on which I have had dialogue with him inside and outside the chamber. That is an important initiative for the Scottish Government to take forward. A summit on manufacturing would complement the work that we are trying to do through the summit on apprenticeships, get a very good response from industry and, I hope, help in future situations of job losses.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative 5:24 pm, 19th March 2009

I, too, congratulate James Kelly on obtaining the debate and bringing this significant matter before members. I have already intimated to Mr Kelly and the minister that, because of another engagement, I will have to leave early—I apologise for that.

James Kelly is right to bring the matter before the Parliament. Although 150 jobs might not be a massive number in the great scheme of things, the impact on Cambuslang and its community will be significant, as he quite correctly said. The impact will be especially significant in the current climate, when jobs are scarce. Given that there are 10 people chasing any vacancy, it is highly probable that some of the workers at Vion who are made redundant will be unemployed for quite some time. I very much hope that that is not the case.

A variety of matters are dealt with in the 5 o'clock members' business slot. I just hope that Mr Kelly will not be the first in a line of MSPs who secure such debates as a result of more job losses in the months ahead because, as I am sure we would all agree, unemployment is a terrible thing. It can affect people's health, their financial security and their behaviour. In the difficult times in which we live, there is a clear duty on every one of us to ensure that everything possible is done to preserve and to create jobs.

How we do that is a wider issue, which is perhaps a matter for a more focused debated on another day, but there are certainly some things that we can do. First, we must listen to all suggestions that are made about how to save companies that are in difficulty. Secondly, we must utilise the Scottish Government's budget effectively. The scope to do that exists, as some of the initiatives that have been agreed in the budget, such as the apprenticeships scheme, show. Cambuslang town centre needs some work doing to it, and the money for that is now available. That might take up some of the slack in employment in the area. There are other schemes that we must consider. I have no doubt that over the months and even the years ahead, suggestions will be made by members of all parties, and I urge the Scottish Government to examine them as carefully and as thoroughly as possible.

From what James Kelly, who is close to the situation, says, it seems unlikely that anything can be done to save the jobs of those workers who are likely to be made redundant within weeks. That is a great pity. We must react constructively and positively to such situations. Although we might accept that jobs will go, we should apply our minds to how new jobs and viable, visible new businesses can be created to replace them. We must ensure that the people who are made unemployed are unemployed only in the short term and are not left to face the difficulties that a long period of idleness inevitably creates.

Photo of Margaret Curran Margaret Curran Labour 5:28 pm, 19th March 2009

I, too, thank James Kelly for securing the debate and put on record my thanks to Scott Walker and the other members of Unite who have worked so hard to tackle the job losses at Vion. I should declare an interest, as I, too, am a member of Unite.

It is no surprise that James Kelly has instigated a debate on the issue, given its seriousness and the role that he plays in dealing with such significant matters as a representative of the community of Cambuslang. It is a serious matter in serious times.

The effects of the proposed job losses will spread beyond Cambuslang. The proximity of the plant to my constituency makes it inevitable that there will be significant consequences for people in the east end of Glasgow, a number of whom are employed at the plant.

A range of issues have been highlighted, one or two of which I will select. As many members have said, in the present situation context is everything. In a downturn of such significance, it is vital that all of us in the Parliament do everything that we can to protect jobs. I genuinely do not think that I need to persuade any member of the consequences of unemployment and the human effects that it can have on families, communities and broader society. We must tackle unemployment not just for reasons of sympathy or empathy; there are good, solid economic reasons for intervening to protect jobs, as I hope the minister will reiterate.

I remind members of the experience of the east end of Glasgow during the 1980s, when the scale of unemployment meant that that part of Scotland paid far too heavy a price, which left it feeling virtually abandoned. We must never allow that to happen again.

I will address some of the issues to which other members have alluded in relation to tackling the serious situation at Vion. As others have said, Marks and Spencer promotes itself as an ethical trader. I am sure that that is what attracts many of us to shop there. I do my fair share of shopping generally, but particularly at Marks and Spencer. However, that image is somewhat undermined if, in the store's search for cost cutting and efficiencies, it moves its work from a site where workers have negotiated relatively good terms and conditions to another site where workers are perhaps not so well organised and protected. Many Labour members believe that it is possible to achieve a balance between commercial interests and a policy that protects workers. I hope that Marks and Spencer listens to what the trade union and we, as representatives, are saying. I hope that the minister will address that.

As James Kelly said, Richard Lochhead announced £75 million of funding to help food producers to access new markets and boost profitability. I welcome that action on the part of the Scottish Government, which we recognise was taken to protect the food industry at this time. However, is the minister prepared to use that £75 million to directly assist the workers in Cambuslang and the east end of Glasgow? In his discussions with the union, will he meet the workers, and come to Cambuslang to meet my constituents and hear about their experience? We need to mobilise all the resources of the Parliament to ensure that we support people there. We must do everything that we can to avoid repeating the experience of mass unemployment and to use all possible levers to protect the workers at Vion and the important communities in Cambuslang and the east end of Glasgow.

Photo of Hugh O'Donnell Hugh O'Donnell Liberal Democrat 5:32 pm, 19th March 2009

I congratulate James Kelly on securing the debate, and I apologise on behalf of my Liberal Democrat colleague for Glasgow, Robert Brown, who has a long-standing engagement that prevents him from being here this evening.

Job losses on any scale in Scotland are a matter of deep concern. The 150 job losses at the Vion factory are, in themselves, serious and concerning and James Kelly and the unions have been working hard to try to mitigate the impact of those job losses. However, when the minister sums up, I would be interested to hear what assessment has been made of the impact on contractors, subcontractors and other companies that provide services to the facility, but which are below the radar of 20 notifiable redundancies, and what steps the Government is taking to identify people who are not within the partnership action for continuing employment criteria.

Members have made legitimate observations about Marks and Spencer and other major retailers. I worked in the supermarket business for nearly 20 years, so I am well aware of how they do things—Margaret Curran's points about ethics were entirely legitimate. However, I have a word of caution about the management of smaller companies and even some bigger companies that—no pun intended—put too many eggs in one basket. With the possible exception of the arms industry, the ruthlessness of international retailers in their search for the dollar is unequalled. I do not believe for a minute that Marks and Spencer will sell any less food as a result of what has happened: what it will do is to widen its margins.

I also sound a note of caution for anyone who deals with the big retailers. We saw what happened in the milk industry when the producers were squeezed by the big retailers' bulk-buying power. Before getting into bed with the devils—metaphorically speaking—you should consider the consequences of those major companies pulling out the rug from under you in relation to their contracts. We see that happening all over the place. John Park referred to several major job losses, including at Freescale Semiconductor UK in my constituency. We need to be aware of that.

We must find a mechanism whereby we can respond quickly. I hope that the minister will be able to clarify the current position. We have the PACE team, but the smaller contractors do not necessarily have access to the necessary retraining because of the rules and regulations about access to training—for example, the 13-week or even 26-week limitation on access. There is no better time to provide such facilities and opportunities than when people are fresh from employment. Six months down the road, when people have been made brain dead as a result of watching too much Jeremy Kyle, their enthusiasm can have been undermined by the time delay.

I congratulate James Kelly on using the members' business debate facility effectively. It is at its most useful in such circumstances. I look forward to hearing what the minister has to say about some of the points that I have made.

17: 36

Photo of David Whitton David Whitton Labour

I, too, congratulate my colleague James Kelly on bringing the debate to the chamber, and I ally myself with support for Unite the Union and the workforce.

As others have said, the job losses affect not just Cambuslang and Rutherglen. One of my constituents who is involved is Mr Ian Young, who lives in Kirkintilloch. The loss of his job is just as much a tragedy for him as it would be for any other worker. As other members have done, I wrote to Marks and Spencer to ask for an explanation of what it was doing. I got what was probably the same reply about a review of the food supply chain and the staged transfer of products. By leaving the site with 50 per cent of the business, it believes that it has acted responsibly, but has it? As Mr O'Donnell said, Marks and Spencer has form in Scotland with this kind of thing. This is not the first time it has walked away from one of its suppliers at a time of difficulty only to come creeping back when things get a bit better.

I could go on about the company's attitude. I find it very strange that a major international employer such as Vion should, until this very day, refuse to speak to the trade union. It is a matter of no passing coincidence that it finally agreed to those talks today, when it knew that James Kelly had secured this debate. It is also a matter of some regret to me—because I quite like Mr Mather—that the minister has not been busy putting pressure on the company to talk to the union. It is also a matter of regret that he has not visited the plant himself before now. After all, we are only two to three weeks away from when the job cuts will take place. As others have said, he was quick enough to go to Dundee, which coincidentally happens to be held by the SNP.

James Kelly mentioned the £75 million of aid that is being given to the food-processing industry in Scotland and the fact that the latest announcements just happen to have been made mostly in SNP constituencies. I say to the minister that it is not just SNP constituencies that have food-processing companies in them; other areas need that investment, too. If the Government is going to spend more of that money, perhaps it should talk to Vion to see whether, even at this late stage, some investment could be made to secure the jobs there.

I welcome the comments of Anne McLaughlin, who lives in the local area or nearby—she has contested it so many times, but never mind that. I hope that she and Mr Doris will continue to put pressure on the SNP ministers to help the workers at Vion. Let us see whether we can do something to save at least some of the jobs there.

Photo of Bob Doris Bob Doris Scottish National Party 5:39 pm, 19th March 2009

I should perhaps apologise to Mr Kelly, as I e-mailed him before the debate to apologise for not being able to be here. However, I have stood up the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning to be here to show solidarity with Mr Kelly and the unions and to add my support. I commend James Kelly for bringing the debate to the chamber. It is important that he has done so. It shows why members' business debates exist and how they can bring everyone's attention—including that of the Scottish Government—to an issue. I thank him for that.

For me, the first issue that sticks out as clear as day is that such closures involve not just job losses—there is a community tragedy when those job losses occur. When I met the unions about the downsizing of the Glasgow passport office, they highlighted the fact that not only are the individual employees affected, but the brothers, sisters, mothers, sons, daughters and cousins are affected, too. Without doubt, entire family networks will be wiped out as being economically inactive if the factory closes. That huge impact on communities needs to be borne in mind and that is why I am taking part in today's debate to show solidarity with James Kelly, the unions and the workers.

Unfortunately, as Bill Aitken pointed out, I doubt that this will be the last time we discuss such issues in the coming months or—dare I say it—in the coming years, given the current economic climate. Therefore, it is worth noting that the Local Government and Communities Committee's inquiry into child poverty is starting to give more consideration to not just how we get people off benefits and into work, but how we deal with maximising the income of those who have lost work and are now on benefits, which is clearly happening in the current economic times. In that respect, and without wishing away a single job at Vion, I believe that in the event that jobs go the Scottish Government and UK Government have a joint responsibility to ensure income maximisation for all the families who are affected. That positive action could be taken in both jurisdictions.

One point that struck me about Iain Gray's question at First Minister's question time today was that, although I disagreed for party-political reasons with many of its sentiments, his question singled out one individual as being the human face of people in troubled economic times. It is important both that we hear those individual stories of the recession and that we take collective action. If we take out the party politics from today's First Minister's question time, I think that we heard general agreement between the First Minister and the official Opposition on the type of collective action that is needed to deal with the job losses in Cambuslang.

I encourage James Kelly to keep pressing on the issue. He should know that he has my support and that I will work with him constructively. Things can be achieved by working constructively. For example, by doing so I was able to achieve an additional 1,000 apprenticeships for Glasgow City Council as part of a £6 million investment in Glasgow. I very much hope that those 1,000 additional apprenticeships will go not just to people who stay within the Glasgow city area but to people who live in the greater Glasgow area, including James Kelly's constituency. As a list member of the Scottish Parliament for Glasgow, I have a shared responsibility to ensure that the people of Cambuslang and Rutherglen prosper and do not suffer job losses, so I am happy to work with James Kelly on that. As Anne McLaughlin is, I am pushing to ensure that such areas attract funding from the town centre regeneration fund. I hope to secure funding from that for Glasgow, but I give a commitment to work with James Kelly to see what we can do for Cambuslang.

I will finish by talking about the action that the Scottish Government can take when such job losses happen. The PACE scheme needs to be used in Cambuslang to the greatest possible effect, so I take on board Hugh O'Donnell's point about the ability of subcontractor companies to access it.

Let me also, in the light of the cross-party unity and solidarity that exists on the issue, make a genuine and serious point that I belong to a party that is a national party in Scotland—

Photo of Bob Doris Bob Doris Scottish National Party

I reject any notion that any part of Scotland receives preferential treatment, so I hope that Labour members will not turn the issue into a party-political football.

Presiding Officer, let me finish off with one sentence. These are not just M and S jobs—these are the jobs of the people of Cambuslang, whose community is at risk.

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

At this stage, I am prepared to accept a motion without notice to extend the debate.

Motion moved,

That, under Rule 8.14.3, the debate be extended by up to five minutes.—[James Kelly.]

Motion agreed to.

Photo of Charlie Gordon Charlie Gordon Labour 5:44 pm, 19th March 2009

I am grateful to James Kelly for securing tonight's debate, sad necessity though it is. As my constituency is adjacent to his, a number of my constituents who work at Vion's Cambuslang plant could, sadly, lose their jobs as a result of recent developments. As might be expected, I have signed the motion and I have written both to affected constituents and to trade union representatives.

A number of members, notably David Whitton, mentioned and quoted Marks and Spencer, or should that be Pontius and Pilate? It is worth while to quote from the briefing note that the company e-mailed to MSPs earlier this week, which states:

"it was necessary to move certain products to more specialist suppliers".

That does not tell us a lot, but what it boils down to is that, by the strike of the accountant's pen, the lives of dozens of families are blighted. That is the human impact of the decision, which was taken privately, perhaps in secret, and without regard for the wider social impact. Commercial decisions are all very well, but what price Marks and Spencer's consistent claims to be a socially responsible company?

The proposed run down at Vion in Cambuslang is not necessary. Even in these recessionary times, the underlying domestic markets for food are pretty strong. The Vion plant in Cambuslang is a competitive one that will soon be better placed, in some respects, to serve those markets. The completion of the nearby M75 motorway will improve the plant's access to every part of the country, whether transhipment is via rail at Eurocentral, via ship at the King George V dock on the River Clyde, via Glasgow airport, or via the UK motorway network. Did the people who made the decisions make them in isolation without seeing the bigger, developing picture of the future of Vion in Cambuslang?

Grampian Country Foods, which was purchased by Vion only nine months ago, was an outstanding Scottish company. On 6 April 2008, before the takeover by Vion—a Dutch multinational—an article in the Daily Telegraph stated:

"HBOS, which is Grampian's banker, is also understood to own a stake in the food producer of less than 20 per cent and is thought to have been pushing for a sale of the company for some time."

HBOS—whatever became of that? Again, decisions were taken in isolation, in secret, and with little regard for the future. At the point of takeover, Grampian said that a £5 million investment in the Cambuslang plant would remain a commitment.

Vion in Cambuslang is no lame duck. The rundown is unnecessary and avoidable. That is why the campaign must go on.

Photo of Jim Mather Jim Mather Scottish National Party 5:48 pm, 19th March 2009

I congratulate James Kelly on bringing the matter to the chamber for debate and getting directly involved on behalf of his constituents. The debate has been excellent, and in their speeches members brought out all the issues on which we need to focus.

As somebody who was brought up in Greenock, I have seen the effects of contraction and job losses up close and at first hand. I know the human cost of such events, which members described eloquently tonight, and the effects, which include stress, strain, financial pressures and impacts on health. That drives me, along with everyone else in the chamber, to want to ensure that we maximise the chance of compelling, rewarding and sustainable employment in Scotland. When we consider the 150 people who are affected at Vion, we must soldier on with them and support them to the hilt.

That is why I share the desire for corporate social responsibility to become more real and more material and not some sort of latter-day window-dressing exercise. It must start at home, with direct and indirect employees. We are entitled to expect a new ethical beginning in these troubled times, especially when we listen to the audit trail that Charlie Gordon put in front of us a moment ago. At the national economic forum yesterday, recruitment agencies told us that companies and employees are working and flexing with one another to get through these difficult times. People are working different shifts at different times in order to ensure that businesses are viable and can continue.

The Norwegians are putting corporate social responsibility through their Parliament.

I pause at this point to address John Park's important point by confirming that the summit on manufacturing is going to happen. We had a meeting with Grahame Smith and John Quigley this week, and we are pressing ahead with the summit. I have offered to meet on a Saturday in order to ensure that we increase the possibility of making the summit happen.

A new awareness is coming to Scotland of the importance of businesses managing in a way that recognises the need to share burdens, threats and stresses with their employees and to dig in to reward their employees in the long term and make loyalty a two-way street. We now know that such things pay materially.

Meanwhile, we must face the current situation. PACE has been involved in it—it has visited the facility twice—and Scotland Food and Drink is heavily involved. I have run a couple of food and drink events in order to ensure that we get more alignment between industry suppliers and the public sector. We must help the situation, and our primary aims must be to consider alternatives to the contracts that have been lost and to work closely with Vion. There are offers on the table to help operational processes, assess the requirements for automation on process lines at Cambuslang and beef up the quality systems.

There are a number of other options. We are working with Vion to secure funding from its headquarters to invest back into the company. We share Charlie Gordon's excellent and eloquent vision of the potential that exists. Scotland Food and Drink is working with Vion closely to build up its supply chain, reputation and premium status, and to grow and restore sustainable jobs. The potential for premiumisation is huge because of the involvement of high-quality Scottish provenance.

We recognise that negotiations in which there is a fixed position—a plan for a dramatic reduction in headcount is a fixed position—are unlikely to give us the optimal outcomes that we want. We want optimal outcomes and things to be better. Therefore, we are keen to engage and to ensure that there are open negotiations on merits and that there is a proper debate about the potential that we all know exists for Scottish food and drink and food processing. We want to do all that we can to help Scottish Enterprise and PACE colleagues get the parties working side by side to attack the problem.

Photo of John Park John Park Labour

I want to pick up on my deliberations on the work that PACE is undertaking being based on intelligence and opportunities for retraining. Does the minister agree that if we are to get PACE in earlier, understand what is happening on the ground, get into business links and engage with companies, it would be useful to get guidance from the Scottish Government or Scottish Enterprise? We could then know what is happening on the ground much more quickly.

Photo of Jim Mather Jim Mather Scottish National Party

I agree. I had a meeting with the chairman of Scottish Enterprise this morning during which I addressed that specific issue with him. The proof of my agreeing with John Park is that John Swinney sent a letter to James Kelly today that responds positively to the overture to meet him and union officials. I am prepared to follow that up. We must get all the parties around the table, as we did with NCR this week, and get a proper debate going. We want to see the parties getting together and generating a variety of additional possibilities.

We know that a great deal can be done with Scotland Food and Drink and the muscle power of a company such as Vion, whose tentacles can take supplies out to Europe and further afield. We always want to look for outcomes that mean that people will work to an objective standard of fairness, viability and partnership and with fair criteria, rather than the independent will of one side of the equation.

Photo of Margaret Curran Margaret Curran Labour

I accept that everybody should get around the table to try to create a solution, but will the minister clarify whether the Government will put on the table some of the £75 million to help Vion and the workers?

Photo of Jim Mather Jim Mather Scottish National Party

I am a great believer in getting things on a really firm footing. We should help the company to achieve the vision that Charlie Gordon, Scotland Food and Drink and I have for it. Essentially, we should earn our way through on a proper basis that accepts the key components that exist—the quality food available through Scottish connections and the ability to start to really move towards achieving much better results.

I hear evidence of an appetite for a marked increase in investment. The company provides 3,500 jobs in Scotland and £400 million. There is great potential for us to bring the company much closer to its workforce and to its suppliers, to secure a better future. I am prepared to roll up sleeves and make that happen. That is my commitment.

Meeting closed at 17:55.