Kilmarnock. What needs to be done then?

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Diageo are closing the bottling plant in Kilmarnock. Coupled with this, they are closing down the Port Dundas grain whisky distillery and Dundashill cooperage in Glasgow. So what are we seeing?  We are seeing centralisation and cost cutting in the face of sentimentality. Ultimate capitalism in charge.

I will express one fear. What happens if everything becomes centralised? How about Glenmorangie made in France, because it’s cheaper to be near Moët offices? Guinness brewed in London anyone? I went to Dublin a couple of years ago and I loved the Guinness Storehouse, the history around the place and the influence that magnificent dark liquid has had on the city.

People may say that it’s just a bottling plant. True, but it is a step towards a centralised future. I don’t wish to judge Diageo, because I don’t feel I am in the position to do so. I think you need all the information in front of you before you can make a judgement. In the end, the corporation is still producing high quality liquid and is trying to protect its ability to do so. Who am I to argue? I am just saying, that if the money is there, heritage should be protected. And here is my idea how…

A visitor centre! I can count hundreds, if not thousands of times I have been asked: ‘Can we go and visit where Johnnie Walker is made?’ Well, maybe not. But what about the Historic Home of Johnnie Walker? I suggested it to a few people today, but the response was mixed. ‘It’s too out of the way’ was one comment and ‘why would Diageo shove a load of money into a visitor centre after making cost cutting?’

Is it out of the way? Good train link from Glasgow. 2 airports nearby. You have Troon golf course up the road. So, so far we have people flying in on the cheaper airlines to Prestwick Airport, we have Glasgow tourism, we have corporate and golf tourism.

As for shoving a load of money into a visitor centre, this is what Diageo should be doing. Re-invest in Kilmarnock, not only for heritage sake, but in terms of profit making. Tourism, in comparison to other industries, is relatively recession resistant. All the figures suggest that tourism is the only growth industry this year and is one of the main employers in Scotland. Surely if Guinness has a big shiny tour, Diageo owes the Walking Man a big shiny tour.

Chris

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Chris, as always, is being a hopeless romantic (this is why ladies love him). I see it from a different perspective.

A certain degree of centralisation is inevitable and making businesses grow is one of the first and foremost objectives of the system we live in. More socially sensitive ideas for a country have emerged here and there in the past and no one can deny the lesson has been learned. Capitalism and it’s natural offspring, democracy, make up the best possible combo for people to live in. So far.

It is Diageo’s right to make those people redundant, reorganise their operations, centralise and decentralise as they wish. What hurts people is not the fact they are doing what they can to please the City, but the fact they are doing it with disregard to a place of heritage. And by this I don’t mean a building full of obsolete bottling equipment. I mean Kilmarnock. Why on Earth didn’t they invest in a new packaging plant there? Surely the location is no worse than Leven in Fife? That way they could happily convert the old plant into flats, gyms, conference centres, shopping malls or anything at all. There would be an outcry, a few hundred people would have to find something else to do, possibly relocate, and the matter would be forgotten by the public within weeks.

Cynical of me? Indeed. But on the other hand it’s as naïve an idea as Chris’ visitor centre. The company pays big salaries to people who, unlike us, know everything about making money. And they say Leven will make more than Kilmarnock.

Why do I think the visitor centre isn’t an option? A commercial tourist attraction needs a mass tourist to be sustainable. The Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh? Fine. But do you really think any Americans would climb that hill if not for the castle so inconveniently located on the top? Kilmarnock does not have any major pull factors and no transport network or golf course nearby can make up for that.

What is more, tourism isn’t recession resistant. Wait until you see this year’s Edinburgh Festivals figures.

So far I have only presented my dark views and gently criticised Chris’ left-wing outlook (God bless him for it). But do I have any ideas on what should be done now? By Lord, what kind of a self-proclaimed expert would I be if I didn’t!?

I think we should all show as much support to the Kilmarnock families as we can. We should put pressure on the authorities to support them with our tax money. And… that’s about it. Nothing else can be done in this situation. Whether we have a thousand or a million signatures on a petition, whether we have my neighbour chav or Sean Connery to sing “Caledonia” for our YouTube clip, it’s all down to Diageo. They own the place, they pay those peoples’ wages. They choose profit over heritage, they are ruthless and corporate to the bone. And by being so, they are probably saving thousands of jobs elsewhere.

Lucas

Comments

  1. We will see Lucas. When they build the ‘Keep Walking’ visitor centre with attached golf course, the dedication will read ‘thanks to Christopher James Hoban for his ideas and support ;)

  2. I think the best solution would be a visitor centre, but only if they can make Kilmarnock a place that people would actually want to go to in the first place, which is a big ask. Short of that, the politicians should be doing their best to attract investment into the area, or at least attempt to ensure that the site is kept serving some kind of job-generating function rather than a simple flat conversion

  3. hi
    sorry my english..
    I’m working in a bar(Highland),and-maybe not the best solutions but in this moment this is the only thing what I and my company can do it-we with the biggest respect and with the correct information,we say to our customers,please if you understand whats happened in the scottish whisky heritage(diageo plan) try an other brand,other malts what is not under diageo ownership.
    the recommendation is professional and the customers are got some new flavour malt what they didnt knows before,they got the news from the industry and the scottish heritage and they talking with the problem,they accept our opinion and enjoy the bar service with this respectfull service.
    i hope you know what I ean..:)
    i;m hungarian and I a big single malt fan.
    btw i think without the diageo the single malt market not same like now,but this last decision in Kilmarnock I think is a shame..
    thx
    N.

  4. That last comment was brilliant.

    I seem to remember a couple of years ago Diageo were planning to close St James Gate, but Dublin City Council whacked a bunch of planning restrictions on the site they wanted to move Guinness to in order to stop it from happening.

  5. [...] I am going to revisit a theme that I have discussed before. Where is the Johnny Walker Visitor Centre? Where is a big history centre, that would also [...]

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