Friday, 10 July 2009

Whisky accounts for one in 50 jobs in Scotland

The EU seems very keen to protect Palma Ham and similar products with "regional identities" but the EU seems silent on plans to end Johnnie Walker's historic links with Scotland by the closure of its Kilmarnock plant and a 200-year-old distillery in Glasgow.

The politicians claimed Scotland's links to premium whisky would be ruined if packaging operations were moved away. MPs said the end result could be the bottling of whisky overseas, especially in the growing markets of India and China.

This, they said, would seriously damage Scotland's premium product, as well as bringing about the loss of thousands of jobs and billions of pounds from the economy.

However, a spokesman for the owners of Johnnie Walker accused the MPs of overreacting. "We fully appreciate that emotions are running high, but we reserve our right to have undertaken a major review of our business in Scotland," he said.

He claimed the firm was committed to working with politicians and was taking its consultation process seriously.

But he warned: "We are concerned that political intervention and speculation may create a more anxious environment for our employees and could be counter-productive to the consultation process."

Alan Gray, of Sutherland and Partners in Edinburgh, one of the country's foremost whisky business analysts, has backed the MPs.

"I would go along with what the MPs are saying completely," he said.

"I think there is a danger that this could develop into something more and that bottling could be moved outside Scotland."

He said that, currently, just over 85 per cent of whisky was bottled in Scotland and the loss of this would lead to large-scale job losses in bottling plants and transporters.

But even more importantly, he said that bottling outside Scotland would damage the image of the product, worth just over £3bn in export sales and even more in the domestic UK market.

For whisky to be classified as Scotch, it needs to be produced in Scotland, but Gray said: "If it is not bottled as well in Scotland, that breaks an important link with the country, which I believe will seriously damage the product."

He added: "It would be a tragedy if bottling was moved abroad.

"I may be wrong, but we will not know until it happens, and then it may be too late."

Whisky accounts for one in 50 jobs in Scotland, employing about 10,000 people, with a further 30,000 jobs indirectly reliant on it.

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