Shetland consultancy becomes latest staff-owned Scottish company

A Shetland-headquartered consultancy has become the latest Scottish firm to become employee-owned as its founders look to pass control of the firm to “the next generation”.

From left: Holly Hunter, Diane Wood, Anna Watt, Helen Erwood and Tony Erwood of ESPL. Picture: Contributed
From left: Holly Hunter, Diane Wood, Anna Watt, Helen Erwood and Tony Erwood of ESPL. Picture: Contributed

Ownership of ESPL Regulatory Consulting, which provides specialist regulatory services to the life sciences, and pharmaceutical and medical device industries, has been transferred from the Erwood family to an employee trust.

The business operates in the UK and internationally, working across the EU, Switzerland, North America and Australia, and has sister companies in Ireland and Switzerland.

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It supports the regulatory processes required for a range of projects, including new high-tech treatments for rare diseases, radioactive treatments for cancer diagnosis and therapy, and training in pharmaceutical law.

Former owners Helen, Tony and Chris Erwood chose to pursue the employee ownership model to pass control of ESPL to allow the business to continue to thrive for the benefit of the employees and remain rooted in Scotland. Helen Erwood, who founded the consultancy in 2000 and will continue to be involved in the business following the transition, said: “It’s approaching time for control of the business to be handed over to the next generation.

“We have built up a successful business from our Shetland base and we couldn’t have done that without the considerable talents and efforts of our team.

“One of our core values is collaboration, and the employee ownership model reinforces that.”

Jason Collins, an experienced regulatory professional, will join the board as managing director as part of the transfer.

He added: “Helen, Tony and Chris are handing the team a tremendous opportunity to take ESPL to the next level. They have created something unique and special and it’s up to us to ensure that the company continues to grow.”

The ownership transfer was supported by Highlands & Islands Enterprise (HIE), which provided a grant for the legal costs involved in the business buy-out, and Co-operative Development Scotland, an arm of Scottish Enterprise.

ESPL also received advice and support from Blackadders LLP and Owner Associates.

Andrew Gear, HIE account manager for ESPL, said: “HIE are delighted to have supported ESPL in making this significant move to employee ownership.

“ESPL provides unique and quality life science jobs to Shetland people. By making this move, the owners have secured these jobs and the long-term presence of the company in Shetland.”

There are currently around 100 employee-owned companies operating in Scotland, with approximately 7,000 employee-owners generating a combined turnover of about £940 million.

Carole Leslie of Ownership Associates, said: “The Employee Ownership Trust provides a tax effective succession option for business owners.

“Employee ownership works for the seller, the employees, the customers, and keeps businesses in the local community.

“Evidence demonstrates that companies owned by their employees outperform their peers on just about every business metric.”