AS part of a review of Stanley Growers Ltd consultants from the ADAS group, a subsidiary of RSK, will soon be speaking to members of the Falkland Islands rural community to gauge their interest in helping supply the company – Deputy Director of Commercial Services Steve Dent told Penguin News this week.
The review will also assess the impact on Stanley Growers with the addition of a port road.
At the September 26 meeting of Executive Council a Business Review for the recently acquired Stanley Growers was agreed to be the way forward.
It was announced in late June that Stanley Growers Ltd and Stanley Nurseries and Garden Centre had been purchased by FIG. The intention now is that ADAS will undertake a review and consultants arrive this Friday. According to the ADAS website they are the UK’s largest independent provider of agricultural and environmental consultancy, policy advice, and research and development.
According to Mr Dent the proposal from ADAS gives an opportunity to look at SGL from a different perspective “and offer market leading advice on ways to develop SGL into the future so as to sustainably ensure food security for the Falklands now and in the future.”
Asked what had led up to bringing RSK/ADAS in Mr Dent said the original ExCo paper for the acquisition of Stanley Growers talked about undertaking a business review, and there were two aspects to that. He said: “So the business is hugely successful – has run for a number of years under the tutelage of Jan and Tim, however, they’re now moving on, so there’s some work to be done around whether things can be done a bit differently – can it be a bit more modernised or is what we’re doing right now absolutely fine? That’s the first part of it. “
Expanding Mr Dent said “in terms of hydroponic there’s been loads of developments lately. A lot of those are based around small areas and of course we’re not short of area. We are high on wind and low on water. So it’s understanding all of that.”
He said the second part was the port project and the access road if it went ahead “What does that really look like in terms of business? If you think about where that will likely go it will be through the big chunk of the arable fields directly north of the actual north side of the business; that’s a chunk of our growing area. So, what does that look like? Is that really going to be a problem? If it is what are our solutions?”
He added: “and so part of what they’ll do is go out to speak to people in camp and see if there’s solutions for farmers to diversify and grow crops…”
He noted however: “The obvious big issue out there is water. The one thing Stanley hasn’t got a problem with right now though is water, or certainly Stanley Growers, whereas if you think about places like Fitzroy or Goose Green or other places, water is a massive issue so it’s how we deal with that.”
Mr Dent also spoke about the development of a new interim manager when Tim Miller retired. Asked if the person would be hired locally or from the UK he said the advert would go out this week. He added that they had hoped to find somebody locally, “the guys that work in the fields and the guys who work in the poly tunnels, they all know their job quite well. It is a business management job with a huge amount of lean towards the specialist skills that Tim’s got, so part of that is downloading Tim’s brain for the last 30 years or however many years it is and all that knowledge of ordering and what the crop needs are and crop rotations, everything else.”
However, he said that didn’t seem likely at the moment: “But if we can’t, my next best option would be to bring somebody in and then re-skill a local person.
“MLA’s wishes at the moment are that we move the business through the government quite quickly once this review is done, and sell it back into the private sector because then it becomes a private sector business. That’s the current the current thinking.”
PN asked – while FIG may want to move SGL on to the private sector, if a private company didn’t want Stanley Growers before why would they want it now?
Mr Dent said the big problem was the unknown elements of the road and the port project “which will fast become known in the new year.”
“I think once that’s known, and the business is better understood, we might be in a position where we could move it into the private sector.”
He said he felt there were two or three individuals very fitted to buy the business with help from FIDC, and perhaps more out there.
But Mr Dent also referenced Mark Blackmore’s article in Penguin News in June this year, saying “the government keeping it as a nonprofit organisation – that hasn’t been completely explored with MLAs. The current instruction of MLAs is we need to move back into the private sector but once we have this business review, it might well be they go ‘Actually, it’s not such a crazy idea’.
“But government doesn’t have a great track record of running businesses and so it’s thought better to move it the private sector. So let’s see what comes out of that.”
PN asked “While FIG is involved how will the goods be priced – will things change”
Mr Dent said: “That will all be part of the business review. Something we haven’t fully got our heads around as a government yet, even though we’ve been in there for nearly two months, is just how the business really works.
He said he would like to see staff wages increased: “which means we can then attract a wider variety of people into the business. We’re short staffed at the moment… but it’s understanding what that [wage increase] impact is on the business.
He added: “So that’s part of that business review is to understand what we can do and how we can generate the level of skill we need within the team. And remunerate people better, but also part of that is are we charging the right price? Are we ordering in the right way?”
He acknowledged personally that fruit was expensive even for someone like him as “a reasonably well-paid civil servant” and they would be looking at what they could do to “make that better” and “whether we can keep it in under the government umbrella or reduce the profit, whether we can move it into the private sector with better controls. That’s all part of that business review as well. The ultimate aim of acquiring the business was food security. It’s about ensuring food security in a sustainable, affordable way…”
Mr Dent felt it key to emphasise “we are building on the previous reports that have been undertaken – this isn’t just another huge report.”
He said it was going to be “tightly controlled – The first part will be three people coming down to look at the 5 year 10 year business plan, staff skills and qualifications and where we want the business to be – and then what the potentials are in the Falklands…It’s going to be built on a real task and finish to get to a point where we can understand what Stanley Growers looks with a road going through.
“And then I’m really keen given the current discussions around the rural community about diversification and what can we do to engage with other suppliers outside of Stanley to provide fruit and vegetables into us and that’s part of it as well.”