This end of project report from the Scottish Islands Abattoir Project shows how significant and beneficial small, island abattoirs are to farmers and the local economy.

Executive summary

In 2013, the project was suggested by His Royal Highness Prince Charles, Duke of Rothesay to support the sustainability and future of the seven island based abattoirs throughout Scotland.

The objective of the project was to consider how the economic sustainability of the seven island abattoirs could be ensured, their levels of operation improved and increased.

The project was funded by the Prince’s Countryside Fund and the Scottish Government and facilitated by a team which comprised Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society (SAOS) and Scottish Business in the Community (now Business in the Community Scotland). They formed a project team which included project management consultants, dbs projects, to work with the abattoirs in Barra, Lochmaddy (North Uist), Islay, Mull, Orkney, Shetland and Stornoway. In addition, a Project Advisory Group consisting of representatives from industry agencies provided the project expert guidance and advice and supports the project team.

The project has allowed the seven distinctly different abattoir businesses to meet and share challenges and examples of good practice. These meetings proved so successful, the Abattoirs formed the Scottish Island Abattoir Association (SIAA) to provide a collective voice and ensure that they continue to work together beyond the lifetime of the project.

The project’s key aim was to support the sustainability of the abattoirs, which meant working with a number of agencies and training providers to ensure that the abattoirs’ staff very specific skills levels were catered for and were in line with the growing demand of regulations. A number of facilities have taken the opportunity of recruiting using a Government training initiative of Modern Apprentices as a way of bringing new and young people in to the Sector, and all abattoirs have undertaken quality management training.

Through the funding provided by the Prince’s Countryside Fund the project has contributed to improving the infrastructure to the majority of facilities by making appropriate capital investment. All investments have been subject to mechanisms that support quality and sustainability including assistance through business mentoring, commitment to an effective quality management plan and commitment to skills development.

As regards business development, many of the Western Isles abattoirs are in the position to positively exploit the Deer Management (venison) policy and are now actively marketing their facilities to cater for supporting the local estates, and indeed some have received positive forward notification of future kill levels.

The businesses are more confident and ambitious about reaching new markets, but continue to be frustrated that their product, despite its high quality and unique provenance, remains to be perceived as expensive and unattainable by many residents within their island community.

Brexit implications could be severe for farming communities on the islands as it is forecast that direct support payments to farmers will fall or possibly disappear. The retention and improvement of abattoir and processing facilities on the islands is therefore all the more important to ensure that farmers in these fragile communities can achieve a greater market return.

Support of local produce varies throughout the area, ranging from Orkney which has developed a strong “Orkney” brand and enjoys local, tourist and public procurement support. Some abattoirs find it difficult to market locally whilst others are taking steps to develop direct retail facilities.

Over the last 3 years (September 2013 to August 2016) the project has delivered:

  • Capital investment of £110,000
  • Encouraged and supported 13 Modern Apprenticeships
  • Developed and introduced a Quality Management Programme
  • Provided training in quality management for abattoir management staff
  • Provided business mentoring
  • Provided benchmarking information on a range of business-specific issues
  • Established the Scottish Island Abattoir Association
  • Commissioned and agreed a logo, website and promotional materials for the Association and member abattoirs
  • Commissioned Resource Efficiency Audits for all facilities
  • Contributed to increased kill figures over the three-years of the project
  • Contributed to increased staffing levels in five of the participating abattoirs
  • Contributed to an increase in turnover (2015/16) for all abattoirs involved in the project.

The abattoirs have provided data demonstrating that they have all experienced steady growth over the period of the project and are now in a better, more secure position than before. The consensus is that the project has made a significant contribution to this situation.

The increase in the numbers of animals processed and turnover highlighted in this report confirms that the abattoirs are encouraging more local business and addressing, what they see as, latent demand on the islands.

However it is sadly ironic that the abattoir which has demonstrated the greatest level of potential, enterprise and endeavour, Orkney, is the one with the most perilous future. The issues surrounding the cost to run the existing site, having been designed to operate at over 15 times the current throughput, has now resulted in high level discussions regarding the continuance of the facility.

As the worldwide market for waste has recently diminished the operators are now experiencing a negative impact. Rather than a revenue generation opportunity of their waste management, it now represents a significant cost which brings the viability of the abattoir into question.

It must be stated however, that this does not reflect the endeavour and positive attitude of the consortium of local butchers who united to ensure that such a facility would be maintained.

Additionally, the facility in Stornoway is subject to the pressures upon local authority spending and following the 2016 budgetary review, intimation was received that the facility would have a significant spending reduction imposed, which will require the management team to consider their operational offer to the community, due to these impacts.

Recommendations from the Project 

This report concludes with a number of recommendations. These are summarised as:

  • That support is sought to ensure the Scottish Island Abattoir Association delivers a major brokerage, marketing and sales project that incorporates local branding under a collective banner e.g. Scottish Island Meats.
  • That the proposed project recommended above is supported centrally by the Scottish Island Abattoirs Association.
  • That as part of the ongoing review process for the Quality Management Programme the Association looks at the Programmes alignment with insurance companies’ risk assessment requirements.
  • That the Association explore the potential of local authority/government/health boards’ procurement by making a strong case for the added economic and social advantages of local supply.
  • That through the Association the Island Abattoirs’ contribution to deer management is promoted and recognised.
  • That the Association endeavours to become self-funding as soon as possible and within three years.

On reflection, the project was established to gauge the levels of sustainability within seven independent, island based abattoirs and to investigate methods to improve upon what had been observed.

The abattoir operators now have healthy and meaningful discussions amongst themselves, which did not happen previously to any great extent. Scottish Island Abattoir Project End of Project Report 3

They have reviewed their business models, considering the best advantage of capital expenditure support, and had that process counter checked by a panel of industry experts, independent to the abattoir businesses.

The abattoirs have also reviewed and embraced new procedures regarding Quality Management, staff recruitment, staff training and operational safety, whilst ensuring the welfare of the animals is always maintained as a key critical element of their business.

They have investigated and enthusiastically embraced the next steps of raising awareness of their role in the community, the quality of the service offered and the value of that product, both within their communities but also to wider and new markets.

The future remains challenging for all the abattoirs. This is especially concerning with regard to Orkney which is currently subject to a review of the premises by Orkney Islands Council and Highlands & Islands Enterprise which may significantly affect any future existence.

This situation may well resolve itself in the near future, but it acts as a poignant reminder of the particularly perilous state in which all seven of the island based abattoirs find themselves, and it is of some succour and pleasure that the project can be seen to have genuinely helped, guided and inspired the businesses to hopefully contend with these ongoing difficult operating conditions.

Read the full report here.

Sign up to our Newsletter

Stay up to date with the latest SFT views and news