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Stewart Milne Group: Scottish Government lambasted over response to job losses

Union representatives hit out over webinar support for sacked workers

Stuart Milne Homes' unfinished Charleston development in Cove, Aberdeen.
Charleston in Cove, Aberdeen. Image: Kami Thomson/DC Thomson

Official efforts to support axed workers at Stewart Milne Group (SMG) to date have been branded “outrageous”.

Union bosses in Aberdeen today urged the Scottish Government to immediately set up face-to-face events between jobless SMG staff and potential new employers.

Their message seems to have hit home as these are now being arranged.

Pace (Partnership Action for Continuing Employment) is the Scottish Government’s scheme for responding to redundancy situations.

It is supposed to ensure public sector agencies react to potential and proposed large-scale redundancies as quickly and effectively as possible.

But union representatives attending a meeting of Aberdeen TUC (ATUC) this week learned Pace activities in response to the collapse of SMG, with the immediate loss of 217 jobs, were being conducted via online webinars.

Another 112 Stewart Milne Group jobs still at risk

Teneo Financial Advisory is handling the administration of SMG and six of its subsidiaries.

It has said a total of 112 employees are being retained across the Westhill-headquartered group for now.

A statement issued on behalf of ATUC members said: “There is serious concern… that the Scottish Government’s Partnership for Continuing Employment (scheme) has not arranged any face-to-face events bringing together employers with job opportunities to meet with all the dismissed workers.

“The Pace decision to only conduct on line webinars is outrageous.

Work in progress at SMG's Dunnottar Park site in Stonehaven.
Work in progress at SMG’s Dunnottar Park site in Stonehaven. Image: Kelly Wilson/DCT Media

“ATUC call upon the Scottish Government and Aberdeen City Council  to intervene and demand  Pace to immediately  set up face-to-face events with potential employers  that will, hopefully, help dismissed workers find employment.”

Steve Dillon, senior officer for construction workers at Unite the Union, told The Press and Journal Pace activities before the Covid-19 pandemic were “always face-to-face”.

He added: “They invited a number of stakeholders and employers to these events.”

Covid changed the way the programme was delivered.

Ex-workers’ mental health concern

The pandemic is over but the Pace team has, until now, offfererd only webinars for an hour at a time.

Mr Dillon said he had written to politicians and civil servants seeking the return of live events. These would give jobless workers better access to employment opportunities and allow colleagues and others to keep an eye on their mental health, he added.

The continued practice of holding only webinars was a “disgrace,” he said, adding union bosses were planning to host their own jobs fair to help those made redundant at SMG.

Stewart Milne Homes sign
Stewart Milne Group and its Scottish housebuilding divisions are in administration. Image: Steve MacDougall/DC Thomson

Andrew Bowie, Conservative MP for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, said: “Many of the 217 jobs lost in the administration move will be among residents in my constituency.

“I am ready to work with MP and MSP colleagues to get the best result for those affected.

“It would be unacceptable to lose those skills and experience from a vital industry.”

Mr Bowie said it was “incredibly disappointing” to hear the Pace team had been offering only online meetings for those who have lost their jobs.

The MP added: “Doing this online kind of misses the point and is just not as helpful for diligent workers who are going through hard times.”

It would be unacceptable to lose those skills and experience from a vital industry.”

Andrew Bowie MP

A government spokesperson said: “This continues to be a difficult time for staff at the company and their families.

“The immediate priority in any situation like this must be to get accurate information to affected staff rapidly, and in a consistent way.

“Having been alerted to the situation at Stewart Milne on Monday, the Pace team was immediately stood up, with a series of webinars for all staff arranged in the coming days.

“This was the fastest possible way to offer immediate support, assurance and information to those affected, given they are spread across the country. The team has meanwhile been working urgently to establish in-person events, which are now confirmed to take place in Aberdeen, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee in the coming weeks.”

City council faces criticism too

Meanwhile, union representaves past and present have criticised Aberdeen City Council (ACC) for its “radio silence”.

Tommy Campbell, now retired from Unite the Union, told the P&J he was “shocked” by the lack of response from the local authority in terms of it perhaps taking on some of SMG’s apprentices and construction workers.

While SMG had its headquarters in Westhill, Aberdeenshire, many of its former employees live within the Granite City boundary.

Tommy Campbell.
Tommy Campbell.

Mr Campbell said: “I am shocked  by the radio silence of leadership and officials of Aberdeen City Council.

“There is no reason why some of these workers couln’t have been offered work.

“Credit to those companies who have acted immediately (to help them find new employment) but shame on the council for not taking the same proactive approoach.”

Aberdeen City Council response

An ACC spokesperson said: “We stand ready to provide support to any of the Aberdeenshire-based Stewart Milne Group’s employees resident in Aberdeen during what we appreciate is a difficult time following the announcement that the business is being wound up.

“The council’s ABZWorks employability service offers a broad range of support to help people into employment, education, or training.

“Working alongside other Pace partners, we will ensure that support is available to anyone who needs it, to rapidly move them back into employment.

“Further information about the support available from the council as a whole is available via

Union’s legal action to win compensation for axed workers

ATUC members are supporting Unite’s legal action to  secure compensation for its union members who were “unfairly and instantly dismissed” by SMG earlier this week.

Unite has claimed SMG failed to properly consult workers about the redundancies.

Where firms fail to follow the correct process, employment tribunals can make “protective” awards worth from 45 days to 90 days of full pay.

Read more: All our stories on the collapse of Stewart Milne Group