Closure of Rothesay Creamery is confirmed

THE owners of Rothesay Creamery have confirmed that they are to cease production at the Townhead site on Friday, May 7.

A spokesman for First Milk said the facility was continuing to lose money, and that no offers to buy the site had been received since the company's closure plans were made public six weeks ago.

The announcement has been made despite the fact that a feasibility study by the Scottish Agricultural College into the production and marketing of milk from Bute is still ongoing.

The creamery's closure will bring an end to a cheese-making heritage on the island dating back to the mid-1960s.

Most of the 19 jobs at the plant will go on Friday, although a small number of employees will be kept on for a short time to mothball the facility.

First Milk's group communications manager, Paul Flanagan, said: "There were no issues or challenges from employees about the rationale we provided for proposals to close the creamery, we have had no approaches from any party about purchasing the creamery, the creamery is losing money every week, and milk volume on the island is likely to fall in future, thus further reducing the creamery's efficiency.

"We have sufficient stock of cheese in place to meet customers' needs."

Milk from Bute's remaining 13 dairy farms will be transported by First Milk for processing at other facilities on the mainland.

Local dairy farmer Alan Kennedy, who also chairs the Bute branch of the National Farmers' Union, said he was surprised at the timing of the announcement, if not at First Milk's decision.

"I thought they would have given us a bit more time in the hope of finding someone who can take the creamery on," Mr Kennedy said.

"But it's pretty clear First Milk just do not want Bute producing cheese. I think they were adamant the creamery was going to be shutting, because they don't want anybody else there."

Mr Kennedy said he suspected First Milk had made its move in order to secure supplies for the company's biggest customer, dairy firm Robert Wiseman – though First Milk has already denied this to be the case.

"If you look at the bigger picture," Mr Kennedy added, "milk production is still falling at a dramatic rate, and First Milk are probably looking at safeguarding their number one customer, which is Wiseman."

Asked whether he held out any hope of a 'white knight' coming to the creamery's rescue, Mr Kennedy said: "In the present climate, I just don't see that happening.

"Hopefully after the feasibility study is carried out there will be a way found that we can go forward, but it does look like the creamery is shutting, and that will be a blow to everybody on the island."

First Milk's executive director for cheese, Kate Allum, who announced the closure plan on March 18, has this week been appointed as the firm's chief executive.

Ms Allum's announcement last month stated that the firm believed closing the Rothesay plant was "the best route to protect the returns we can pass back to our farmer members".

A spokesperson for Highlands and Islands Enterprise, which commissioned the feasibility study, said:

"The SAC report is expected to be finalised within the next two weeks and the focus now is on assessing possible options for value added dairy products, either in the existing creamery building or elsewhere on the island.

"HIE will be disappointed at any closure, but this is a commercial decision for First Milk."

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