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28 January 2005

THE fight to salvage something out of Dunoon Ceramics continued this week as management, union and outside bodies continued discussions in the hope of saving the doomed plant.
The Staffordshire-based company announced last week that it was contemplating closing the plant in Hamilton Street, with the potential loss of over 50 jobs.
No-one, however, was underestimating the scale of the problem facing the company.
Production director Alan Smith, however, poured cold water on any notion of a ‘quick fix’. “Being realistic,” he said, “the future for the Dunoon operation doesn’t look very good. If we had a magic formula we’d use it, but that’s not an option. All we can hope for in the short term is a change in circumstances or an upturn in trade.
“The company is in good shape, but it simply can’t continue in two separate parts the way the market is at the moment. Our level of sales isn’t too bad, but not where it has to be to sustain two operations. 
“We are still going out looking for business; we were at the SECC in Glasgow at the weekend, and we are going to another trade fair in Paris, followed by one in Birmingham, and then back to France again.”
Mick Young, the National Officer for the workforce’s trade union, the Ceramics and Allied Trade Union, has been in talks with both management and employees regarding the future.
“What is important here,” he said, “is to explore what is possible. We are in the initial stages of a consultation process and it’s clear to all concerned that the Dunoon operation is under threat.
However, while it’s important not to raise hopes, it’s equally important to see what is possible in terms of the survivability of the plant and the jobs of its workforce.
“Dunoon Ceramics is, after all, synonymous with the town, and if its possible to pull together a survival package using EC, government or funding from any source then these avenues should be explored.”
He warned, however: “Any funding body looking at ‘survivability’ will be looking at the relatively long term - not six months down the line.
“I’m not an economist, but I’ve never understood the financial logic of putting people out of work, with all the associated cost, rather using funding to keep them in gainful and profitable employment.
“I have a great deal respect for this workforce, and I know that respect is also shared by Alan Smith, their employer. There are a lot of bodies, including Argyll and the Islands Enterprise and The Jobcentre, looking for solutions here.”
An AIE spokeswoman said that they would explore every avenue to keep the plant open, or if that failed, to look at retraining staff for other jobs.
She was unable to comment if AIE was contemplating a financial package to save the plant, but did say that there was a possibility of help with capital investment. AIE representatives were due to meet with Ceramics management as we went to press on Thursday.
Dunoon Ceramics has been in Cowal for over 30 years, but has scaled its local operation down recently, moving much of its activities to its base in Stone, Staffordshire.
Councillor Gordon Mc-Kinven, who is actively fighting any possible closure, said, “The impending redundancies will have a disastrous effect on my constituents, as the majority of employees are from my Ward.”
The damage to the company’s profitability has been done by a flood of cheap copies of its products flooding the market from the Far East, largely India, China and South Korea. So severe has the impact been that Ceramics has had to pull its own lines, in particular its popular Funky Farm designs which were sold through quality outlets such as John Lewis, Dobbies and Jenners.
As a result the company has had to devote resources into chasing up the counterfeiters through the courts to destroy copies being sold in Europe - a time consuming and frustrating process.

AFTER a long campaign Dunoon’s second ambulance is set to come into commission over the next two weeks - however the cover still falls short of the level demanded by locals.
Argyll and Clyde Health Board has reached an agreement with the Scottish Ambulance Service to support the provision of the vehicle and will put up a recurring allocation of £135,000 to pay for the vehicle as well as a one-off payment of £17,000 for staff training and development. The ambulance service will also make a contribution of £38,000.
The funding will provide cover of two fully-staffed vehicles for 16 hours a day, seven days a week. Additional drivers will be provided overnight so that, for instance, a maternity patient could be transferred with a midwife in attendance.
The health board said that it expected more use of the helicopter to reduce ferry callouts and land transfers during the night.
The recruitment process is already underway and the health board expects to have the service in place within the next couple of weeks.
However, the new level of cover has failed to satisfy the pressure group CATCHES, whose outgoing chairman, Andrew Champion, said: “This is not what we were led to expect; we were told that we were to get two ambulances providing 24 hour cover - now it seems that is not to be the case. The number of additional staff being employed, a paramedic, an ambulance technician and three drivers seems to bear that out.
The health board says that local ambulance staff are ‘very positive’ about the development and are doing all they can to support it. The ambulance service is also establishing a ‘redesign team’ to explore further developments in Cowal including the possibility of paramedics being trained to work both within the hospital and the community, where it was envisaged that they would see and treat patients within their own homes as an integral part of the health service in Cowal.
The board also sees the ‘Helimed’ helicopter - essentially an airborne intensive care unit - being used more widely for night-time callouts. Lights have been installed at Dunoon Stadium for landing purposes, and the Emergency Medical Retrieval Team from Paisley Royal Alexandra and the Southern General in Glasgow will be in a position to send accident and emergency or anaesthetic consultants if required.
Cllr Brian Chennell, the Bute and Cowal Area Committee chairman, said that while he felt it was certainly a positive move, it still fell short of achieving the desired target of two ambulances available on call 24 hours a day.
“I’m not yet convinced that what is being provided is bringing us up to the desired standard set by NHS 24,” he added.

THE manager of a nursing home who lost her job when the business was sold has been awarded a five-figure sum by an industrial tribunal which ruled that she had been unfairly dismissed.
Sharon Johnson was on maternity leave when business, Ashgrove Residential Home, was sold by the then owners, her mother and father, to Peter Wilkinson.
She had previously been employed at another home owned by her parents, Holly Lodge, when it was sold.
She had gone on maternity leave soon after the sale of Holly Lodge, but it was agreed that she should be transferred to Ashgrove Residential Home to take up the position of administration manager at the end of her leave.
In January this year, Ashgrove was also sold, and Mrs Johnson’s name was included in the list of those employed at the time of the transfer.
However, this was disputed by Mr Wilkinson, the new owner, who argued that her employment wasn’t transferred to him, and contended that there was no job for her at Ashgrove.
However, the tribunal was of the opinion that the evidence that Mrs Johnson was employed at Ashgrove was ‘overwhelming’.
There was correspondence between solicitors regarding the sale and also an offer to Mrs Johnson, and her acceptance of alternative employment, which took place prior to the sale.
There were also payslips confirming her transfer from Holly Lodge to Ashgrove.
The tribunal ruled that Mrs Johnson, of 85 Marine Parade, Dunoon, was unfairly dismissed as her employment should have been transferred with the sale; her employer, Mr Wilkinson, was therefore in breach of TUPE (Transfer of Undertakings - Protection of Employees) legislation.
Mr Wilkinson was ordered to pay Mrs Johnson £17,315 in compensation.

A LOCAL man walking his dog last Friday may have stumbled upon further evidence that there is a big cat alive and prowling in the Cowal area.
The man, who prefers not to be named, was walking his dog on a trail opposite Stratheck Caravan Park. When he approached the road above the Inverchapel Burn he noticed that his dog seemed very intent on sniffing the path on the way down.
He said: “The next day I walked up the same path hoping to continue on up to Beinn Ruadh with the dog. I’d walked a short distance along the trail when the dog refused to go any further. So I retraced my steps back to the car and started to walk up again along a different trail. This time my dog followed.”
After reaching the trig point at the top of Beinn Ruadh the man started to walk down towards a small tarn about half a mile away. Near the tarn he noticed what he thought was part of a dead sheep’s skeleton.
He goes on: “But when I inspected it I realised it was the leg of a deer, completely eaten and left with only a few joining ligaments. The shoulder blade was barely visible as it had been completely chewed away.What kind of animal would have carried and eaten just one leg of a deer out in the open seemingly miles from any obvious habitations? The rest of the carcass was not there!”
This incident reminded him that he had taken a photo last March of a large paw print on the path past Inverchapel sheep wash.
“I thought at first it might have been a dog’s paw print, but the animal seemed to have jumped the path and left no other telltale prints on the path. The print was nearly 3 inches across. Rather a large dog! Do domestic dogs normally jump footpaths without leaving any other paw marks? Why was my dog frightened to walk up the trail by the Inverchapel burn?
“Then while tidying up some old papers I noticed a comment in The Observer from last year headed: “Big cat sighting”. And as chance had it a lady in a local garage this week told me that last year she had seen what appeared to be a large black catlike animal run in front of a car in which she was travelling near Toward Sailing Club and she was sure it wasn’t a domestic cat.”
In fact The Observer has reported more than once on Big Cat sightings in the area. In 2004 - (the article that the gentleman above had noticed) we reported that Ian McNab from Sandbank saw a large black cat on a road at Otter Ferry. Mr McNab said at the time: “It was puma-like with a long curved tail, black in colour and was the size of the average collie dog. I told one of my colleagues about it and he said that he had also seen a large cat further down the road at about 5.30am.”
At the time there was a spate of similar sightings across Cowal, they cropped up in Tighnabruaich and even Innellan throughout 2004.
Back in 2001 the Observer reported that there had been sightings from Inveraray to Colintraive, but concentrated on a specific one close to a farm near Millhouse. Two boys over from Rothesay collecting shellfish at Stillaig Bay saw a large puma-like black cat crossing the track right in front of them.
They said it was bigger than a border collie. The farmer said they had not lost any sheep but that their shepherd had suspicions that something had been worrying them. Another sighting at the same time was by a resident near the farm who saw what he thought was a big dog about 150 yards from his house, but as he watched it realised it was feline and the size of a small Labrador with powerful hind legs.
Reports of local sightings go back at least to the early 1950s when a large dark cat was seen at the Rest and be Thankful; local police were said to be aware of it, and the monitoring group Scottish Big Cats has details of incidents going back to 1926.
There have been many sightings over the rest of Scotland over the years, as well as in England where there are occasional reports of “The Beast of Bodmin” and the infamous “Surrey Puma”. Many of the Scottish sightings are in the Highlands and North East, but there have been reports from Paisley, Edinburgh and the Borders .
Apart from anecdotal evidence, there have also been real life encounters - in the 1970s a puma was trapped by a farmer at Cannich and ended her days at the Highland wildlife park at Kincraig, and in 1980 a lynx was shot in Kintyre.
Each year there are hundreds of these sightings and many of them are sure to be hoaxes; however the sheer volume of reports, the fact that there’s plenty of wildlife to eat and with afforestation providing perfect cover all seems to add up to a definite possibility of there being something large and feline out there.