Hope for workers at Tullis Russell plant

Tullis collapsed into administration earlier this week. Picture: Colin Hattersley
Tullis collapsed into administration earlier this week. Picture: Colin Hattersley
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A POTENTIAL white knight has emerged to save Tullis Russell, one of the last survivors of Scotland’s formerly expansive paper-making industry.

Employee-owned Tullis collapsed into administration earlier this week with the immediate loss of 325 workers after failing to find a new owner among more than 70 possible buyers.

However, a husband-and-wife team from Kilmacolm has now expressed an interest in the business.

PG Paper, owned by Puneet and Poonam Gupta, approached administrators at KPMG today about a possible deal to rescue the business. The couple specialise in trading redundant and surplus stock in 24 countries, with paper and stationery forming the “backbone” of the business.

A total of 149 workers remain at the Markinch plant in Fife, where they are completing a number of orders.

A PG Paper spokesman said: “PG Paper have expressed an interest in buying the company’s stock and also potentially the facility itself as a going concern.”

The company is on target for sales of £30 million this year, with more than 90 per cent of its total volume exported to the Indian Subcontinent, the Middle East and the Far East. During the last few years it has started developing a presence in other major markets such as North Africa, Turkey and South America.

PG Paper is also considering overseas acquisitions, having recently held discussions with potential targets in northern Europe, North Africa and North America.

Founded 206 years ago, Tullis Russell was part of an industry that employed an estimated 17,000 people by the mid-20th century. However, the sector has been under pressure for decades from rising wood pulp prices, cheaper competition from abroad and an inability to pass on increased costs to customers.

Tullis Russell specialised in higher-quality paper and card, but this has not been immune from the pressures of online publishing. During the past five years, the company racked up losses totalling £18.5m.

As a result of its collapse, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has set up a task force co-chaired by the Scottish Government and Fife Council.

Backed by £6m of funding, the task force is due to hold its first meeting on Thursday. An employment event for staff who have been made redundant is planned for next week.

The announcement from PG Paper follows moves by Alex Stewart-Clark, the Conservative candidate for Glenrothes, to find a buyer for Tullis Russell. A veteran of the timber industry,

Stewart-Clark has given KPMG details of a potential unnamed buyer, but it is not known whether that was PG Paper.

Speaking after his meeting with KPMG, the Conservative candidate called on the Scottish Government to do more for Tullis Russell, one of the larger employers in his constituency.

“This company needs help from the Scottish Government,” Stewart-Clark said. “Nicola Sturgeon has appointed a task force, but SNP commercial initiatives to date have not worked.

“What the next owner needs is capital, cash or loans with conditions attached to them to help them keep the plant and some of the jobs viable.”

If these last-ditch rescue attempts fail, Tullis Russell will join a long list of Scottish-based paper companies that have been forced out of business over the years. Names include International Paper of Inverurie, the Inveresk mills in Denny and Inverkeithing, the Davidson Mill in Aberdeen and the Corpach Paper Mill near Fort William.