THE directors of Oban Livestock Centre have agreed to appoint United Auctions to take over the running of the mart at Upper Soroba.
UNITED Auctions will replace Caledonian Marts in running Oban Livestock Centre, shareholders decided at their AGM in the Upper Soroba mart on Tuesday.
Oban Livestock Centre (OLC), a co-operative, has been operated by Caledonian Marts of Stirling since 1996, but earlier this year OLC’s directors put the running of the business up for tender.
They attracted bids from five auction companies, including one from Caledonian Marts to stay, but they unanimously chose United Auctions (UA) as the preferred bidder, ahead of runners-up Longtown-based C and D Auction Marts.
UA, which currently runs livestock markets in Dalmally, Tiree, Islay, South Uist, Stirling, Huntly, and Lairg, changed ownership in February to a consortium of Donald Young, Christopher Sharp, George Purves, and John Roberts.
OLC chairman Duncan Buchanan explained: ‘With decreasing stock numbers and Brexit looming, it was time to put it to tender. We are looking to increase the through-put in Oban. OLC is making profit, but we want to make its profit secure. UA would be a safer bet.’
OLC board member Neil McCorkindale said some were dissatisfied with Caledonian Marts. ‘We were hearing rumbling of low stock numbers and high commission rates. We all decided UA should take OLC forward.
‘Is there enough livestock to keep two auction companies in the West of Scotland? Inviting a new company is cutting the cake another way. UA run most island auctions. They are not the company that sold OLC out 20 years ago.’
The decision would be controversial, he explained, after UA reportedly ‘back-tracked’ on its offer to assist in building Oban’s livestock market two decades ago. ‘To spite them, we raised money to build our own market,’ he said. ‘It has been a huge success. A lot of water has gone under the bridge. We are confident this will secure OLC for the future.’
Shareholders met to make the final decision at the OLC’s AGM on Tuesday May 30. One began by saying OLC was ‘a difficult situation’, since Dalmally was 25 miles closer to Stirling at ‘the centre of things’.
If sellers and buyers did not materialise, Mr Buchanan said, ‘five years down the line we will have two more companies interested’.
Another asked if UA guaranteed it would still be the operator in five years. ‘Yes,’ replied Mr Buchanan, adding: ‘They cannot sell the market: it is our market.’
Donald Young, a UA director and owner, gave a short presentation. ‘We are not going to run away in two years or 10 years,’ he said. ‘We are looking to be here in 20. As long as you want us, we want you.’
Commission rates at Oban, Dalmally and the islands would be 4.5 per cent, he stated, compared to 3.75 per cent at Stirling and Huntly. Responding to concerns over a lack of competition, he added: ‘What we want is competition around that ring. We want to get the stock in the sales, and get the buyers to the sales, to get you the prices you need.’
Mr Buchanan asked for agreement, or a vote for UA versus ‘another operator’, telling one shareholder: ‘If you want another operator, the board will have to stand down. You will have to speak to them yourself. Our directors were appointed to direct.’
Other bidders were not invited to speak, he revealed: ‘They disclosed information to us they did not want in the public domain.’
Another shareholder said: ‘I do not approve of UA. If that is the directors’ decision, that is fine by me. But we will be watching UA.’
OLC director Edward Gully appealed: ‘ We have to thank Caledonian Marts. We made the right decision 20 years ago. This is not the time to start to gamble with our market. We are going into uncertain times. [This] will lead to bigger through-put, and better sales.’
Left to right: OLC chairman Duncan Buchanan, secretary John MacGregor, directors Edward Gully, John Carmichael, Caroline Ronald and Hugh MacPhail, and United Auctions’ group sales director Donald Young and administration director Christopher Sharp.