9 November 2001

Ring taps into lucrative labour market

With new offices, a new labour agency and an increasing

membership, prospects would appear to be bright for Borders

Machinery Ring. Andy Moore reports from Scotland

EXPAND and survive, have always been the watchwords for machinery rings across the UK and the Borders Machinery Ring (BMR), based in Galashiels, near Edinburgh, is no exception.

The ring has launched a new labour and training agency which is intended to offer employment opportunities for displaced agricultural labour, the unemployed and people outside farming who seek part-time work.

Called Border Area Service Ltd (BASL), the agency runs alongside BMRs existing ring-based labour service as a wholly-owned subsidiary.

"Hard times in agriculture, which have been aggravated by foot-and-mouth, have led a multitude of farms to lay-off workers either temporarily or permanently," says Mike Orr, who set up BASL. "The principle aim of BASL is to provide workers inside and outside of agriculture with sustained part time or permanent work in farming or other occupations."

The agency operates in three main ways: Existing BMR members who pay the £100 annual subscription fee can source and exchange labour between themselves through the services of BASL.

Non-members of BMR have the opportunity to join BASL and either put labour into or draw labour from the agency.

The final condition is that self-employed, unemployed or redundant workers can join BASL and source work through the agency, either on a job by job or permanent basis for a £50 annual subscription fee.

"An example of how BASL operates is finding work for skilled employees, such as tractor drivers and shepherds, during quiet periods, together with work for the unskilled throughout the year," says Mr Orr. "Keeping workers employed on a full or part-time basis should prevent them from loosing faith in their farming occupations and leaving the industry."

Mr Orr reports a large number of farm workers across the rings Northumberland, Borders and south Scotland area are leaving agriculture for higher paid jobs with better prospects and working conditions.

A case in point, says Mr Orr, is in Edinburgh where farm labourers are finding work on construction sites and landscaping jobs.

BASL aims to lure these workers back into farming or rural businesses and types of work such as tourism, small factories, forestry or carpentry.

But the agency is far from just an agricultural labour provider, insists Mr Orr. BASL is able to pool its recourses and labour database to find a range of jobs for the unemployed and semi-employed who have traditionally worked outside of farming.

Based at the rings new offices, BASL handles all administration, while invoicing will be processed through an accounts department.

The agency also takes on PAYE and NI responsibilities for the employee and employer, and both parties will operate under established and agreed contracts.

"The Inland Revenue is clamping down hard on employers and the self-employed who are not officially on the books and paying tax," he warns. "BASL enables part-time workers to be employed legally and eliminate the hassle of getting to grips with the PAYE system."

Although the agency offers significant advantages to workers, Mr Orr believes it also delivers considerable benefits to employers by allowing them to pay staff part rather than full time.

During quiet periods staff can be temporarily laid off so they can be used more effectively on other farms and businesses which may need them, he says.

"We are battling against the independence of farmers who true to their nature are often the last to admit they need an extra pair of hands at peak periods," he says. "Conversely, we face a huge education issue of how to convince businesses of the financial savings which can be made by temporarily laying off staff."

BASL aims to start a series of courses to train and retrain workers inside and outside of agricultural occupations to help avoid skill shortages.

A long-term objective is for BASL to provide career opportunities for college and school leavers and for those at the unfortunate end of the employment ladder.

But what of BMRs overall expansion? Turnover has increased from £1.8m in 1994/95 to £3.4m for 1999/2000, and membership has nearly doubled from 380 to 600 over the same periods.

"Over the past four months, members have been thinking long and hard about how to cut machinery and labour expenditure and are now using the ring more actively," says BMR assistant manager Michael Bayne. &#42

BORDERSMACHINERYRING FACTS

Base Galabank Mill, Wilderhaugh, Galashiels TD1 1PR. (01896-758091 bmr@ringleader.co.uk)

Manager Alastair Cranston. Assistant manager Michael Bayne. Labour manager Mike Orr.

Operating area Scottish Borders and north Northumberland. Members 615. Farming Arable, mixed and hill.

Fees £100 subscription, £1 returnable share, 2% commission on each half of transaction.

Usage rate 12% full time contractors, 75% farmers, 13% individual labour.

Turnover £75,000 in 1987, £2.8m in 1997 and £3.4m in 1999/2000.

Most popular services Fuel supply, labour, baling, silage work, combining, muck handling and electricity.