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Sefton support will protect other local business - Chief Minister

Friday, 26 April 2013

Chief Minister Allan Bell MHK says he understands concerns over Government's support for the Sefton Group – but the priority has to be maintaining stability and confidence in the local economy.

'I do appreciate the point that companies should normally pay the price for their past mistakes", said Mr Bell.

But in the case of the Sefton Group that approach ignores the fact that a failure would trigger disruption and damage across the domestic economy.

It was made clear to Government that the Group needed a financial restructure to secure a sustainable future, and that it was at constant risk until the restructure was completed. It was equally clear that Government’s support was a vital part of the package.

The Sefton Group employs 300 people, with an annual spend of £7.3 million, hundreds of local shareholders, and trade debts in the region of £1.7 million owed to a range of local businesses. The failure of such an organisation, whenever it happened, would be like an earthquake in the local domestic economy. The victims would include not just the company itself but all the creditor businesses and most importantly economic confidence, which would be seriously shaken at a time when the Island is coming under renewed international scrutiny.

There would of course be other parties who would step in to pick up the prime assets from the rubble. But that would not protect the creditors or confidence, and as the Chamber of Commerce has indicated, cherry-picking the Group would not be the best solution in the national economic interest.

When Government is aware that there is a real danger of economic upheaval on such a scale, it has a duty to take that risk seriously and to take appropriate action. We would be rightly condemned as grossly irresponsible if we ignored that danger.

This is indeed an unusual intervention by Government, in unusual circumstances, and because a public company is involved we were unable to give advance notice of the proposed support.

However, the Council of Ministers does recognise the need for proper scrutiny of Government's actions in the public interest, and so we are ourselves referring this issue to Tynwald's Economic Policy Review Committee for their consideration.

There will inevitably be many questions about the details and mechanics of this support for the Sefton Group. But I hope that people will understand that the fundamental principle behind it is the protection of the local economy, local jobs and local businesses.'

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