Opinion

Paul McNamee: Calvin Harris' fishy business can lead the way forward

The superstar DJ has stepped in to try and save Pinneys fish factory in his home town of Annan

Calvin Harris

One of the strangest, most heartening stories of last week involved Calvin Harris and a fish factory.

You’ll be familiar with Calvin Harris. He’s the Scottish superstar DJ who knows when to drop the beat and make millions – like a more tanned, taller, dance version of Ed Sheeran.

The fish factory is called Pinneys and is found in the small southern Scottish town of Annan. It currently employs 450 people and is under threat of closure. The parent company, Young’s, are planning to shut up shop and move production to Grimsby. In a further unwelcome twist, it has emerged that Young’s themselves are now looking for a buyer. It is a mess.

It matters not a jot whether May or Corbyn are spinning local election results as positive for them, because on local streets people are suffering and jobs are melting away. Interventions need to come from beyond government now

Harris is involved as he comes from the area and once worked in Pinneys. When he heard about the threatened closure, he got in touch with the local council and asked what he could do to help.

The most straightforward answer – buy Pinneys, turn from Dua Lipa collaborations and become a fish-processing magnate – was, for common sense reasons, not the first one.

Conversations are currently ongoing on what practical things Harris can do.

Do not dismiss this as paying lip service and of scant worth. I think Harris’ intervention is more than laudable. It is to be celebrated and amplified. We too often point the finger at those who emerge from a place, make something of themselves but then move on and pull the ladder after them. Harris understands the vital importance of this unfashionable factory to the town – to the employees, to their children, to the schools, other local shops, to the entire supportive net that pulses with the lifeblood of a place. He is willing to do something to prevent the closure.

This must go further. There is a crisis looming across Britain and Britain’s high streets. In recent weeks, Toys R Us and Maplin have gone bust, costing over 5,500 jobs. House of Fraser and Debenhams are wobbling.  Virgin Media let 800 go in recent days.

It matters not a jot whether May or Corbyn are spinning local election results as positive for them, because on local streets people are suffering and jobs are melting away. Interventions need to come from beyond government now. In The Big Issue we’ve spoken about a third way before, about the need, the gnawing, essential need, for local small businesses, many driven as social enterprises, to lead the change and to bring life back to communities.

The Harris intervention has shown that those with real power to effect positive change should be called upon too. Go higher for help. Those who are responsible for the collapse in sales in the first place, the titans of the digital world, should be approached. Let’s get them to divert some of the billions they are investing in vanity quests to go to Mars or find eternal lives for themselves into helping the people they’ve hoovered up the money from.

We’re in a crisis that needs new thinking. It won’t work by taxation, but rather by appealing to something within the billionaires’ human chip. Such rescue packages are not unheard of. Jeff Bezos bought The Washington Post and turned a failing heritage brand into something that works – preserving jobs, growing influence and providing a template for new success.

How do we get the tech oligarchs together? How do we get them to use their considerable powers to work for the people at the bottom, if not to aid collapsing companies then to drive training and new skills so the workforce are ready for the different demands of tomorrow.

Perhaps Calvin Harris will host a party. We can start there.

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