Pork plant buyout welcomed

Hundreds of jobs at a Cookstown pork processing plant have been safeguarded after a management buyout was confirmed yesterday.

The Netherlands-based food producer Vion reached agreement for the acquisition of its UK pork operations, which will secure 4,000 posts across the UK. 

Vion said last month that it wanted to sell its entire UK food operation as part of a strategy to focus on its core food activities in the Nether-lands and Germany.

It has been talking with prospective buyers for its other UK business units for poultry and red meat and some of those plants have already closed.

However, a buyout led by Seamus Carr, managing director of Vion's pork business unit, and backed by UK private equity firm Endless has saved the pork facilities.

The plant in Cookstown produces pork, sausages, bacon and cooked meats.

It has a payroll of around 700 and famously once used soccer icon George Best to promote its sausages.

Earlier this year Vion announced plans to create 165 jobs with support from Invest Northern Ireland's jobs fund.

Vion also has port operations at Malton, Scunthorpe, Hull and Stoke in England as well as a pig farming and feed mill operation in Aberdeenshire.

The Usdaw union represents workers at the Co Tyrone plant and said it welcomed the takeover.

"While we welcome the news, we will be seeking an urgent meeting with the new owners in order that we can fully understand the short to medium-term business strategy and receive assurances on jobs and the future of the business," national officer John Gorle said.

"We are hopeful the buyout will safeguard the positions of 4,000 workers in the pork business and allow our members a more relaxed Christmas knowing they may still have a job in the new year."

Ivor Ferguson of the Ulster Farmers' Union also welcomed the buyout.

"This is good news for local pig farmers, removing any uncertainty over the future of pig processing, and I hope it will signal an upturn in fortunes for the industry, which has endured a difficult 2012," he said.

"Pig farmers in Northern Ireland consistently produce pigs to the highest quality - a match for any of our competitors in the EU."