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Skeld reels as Smokehouse folds

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Pete Bevington

2 May, 2008

A SMALL Shetland community is reeling after the only major employer in the area closed down his processing factory without warning yesterday (Thursday), with the loss of two jobs.

Shetland Smokehouse employed 17 people in the west side village of Skeld when it was taken out of liquidation in August 2006 by Buckie firm Cluny Fish.

Workers are in the process of removing a kiln from the Shetland Smokehouse yesterday.At the time Cluny boss Louie Paterson said he planned to expand production at the factory, which exported its award-winning fish products to at least 10 countries around the world.

Back then Mr Paterson said: “We are no asset strippers”, but yesterday he was confronted by council officials who stopped him from driving away with a £50,000 kiln he had physically removed from the building by tearing out part of the wall.

Shetland Islands Council property manager Alan Rolfe said Mr Paterson had leased the building from the council, but had not informed them of his intention of closing the factory until they contacted him on Wednesday.

Mr Paterson had also not informed Highlands and Islands Enterprise who awarded Cluny Fish a grant of £19,162 last September to purchase new equipment for the Skeld factory.

Yesterday Mr Paterson was unavailable for comment and the factory phone had been cut off.

Former employee Ian Gray said the community was “devastated” by the latest events, but that things had been going downhill ever since Cluny Fish took over the firm.

Shetland Smokehouse was set up by Dave and Debbie Hammond in the early 1980s to process locally caught and farmed fish, and built up a formidable brand reputation.

In 2004 Lerwick pelagic processors Shetland Catch approached the firm to develop the brand further. They struck a deal, but instead the Smokehouse was put into liquidation in 2006 and sold to the Buckie family business.

Despite Mr Paterson’s assurances of investment and expansion, experienced staff were paid off early last year and others followed leaving just two people in work this week, when they too were sacked.

Mr Paterson turned up at the factory on Wednesday and started to remove equipment. Local people informed the council who sent officers down to meet him.

Mr Rolfe said all the equipment belonged to the company apart from the kiln, the most expensive machinery on the premises. “They (Cluny Fish) believed the kiln was theirs, we believe that it’s ours. They have removed it from the building, but they have not taken it off the site and we will be putting it back in,” he said.

He said the building had been damaged, but the structure was fine and the council would be looking for a new tenant after it had been repaired. “Clearly there are legal implications that we shall be pursuing,” he added.

Last night an HIE spokeswoman said they had not received any “formal confirmation” that Shetland Smokehouse had been “formally” wound up.

“HIE has a standard procedure for the recovery of grant money from any business should there be any breach of grant obligations,” she added.

Mr Gray said Shetland Smokehouse was the only source of employment for local people in Skeld, with 17 full time staff and more picking up casual work around Christmas time.

“This is sad news for the community. It’s last remaining employment we have after Scottish Sea farms closed in Sand. This community is just devastated. It’s a total disaster. It’s been a main player for this place for more than 20 years,” he said.

Most recent update - Tuesday, 06 May 2008 17:07
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