£8.2M merger sees John Swan marts in Borders taken over by H&H Group

The future of livestock marts in the Borders and Wooler looks assured following an £8.2m merger of two of the UK’s oldest mart firms.

The deal, officially finalised yesterday, sees the John Swan & Sons PLC marts in Newtown St Boswells and Wooler join the seven operated by H&H Group PLC in Cumbria, the Borders and County Durham, and creates the UK’s biggest livestock mart based marketing operation.

The H&H Group operates in auctioneering, property advice and sales, insurance and printing with a focus on the agricultural and rural economy.

All 40 John Swan staff will transfer to the H&H Group –which owns Harrison & Hetherington and employs 275 – and which is already advertising to grow the team.

As part of the deal, the H&H Group has also acquired extensive property interests in the Borders and Edinburgh from John Swan, which it is keen to develop over the coming years.

The deal first became public back in December due to it involving the acquisition of a PLC - public limited company - and it was the additional work needed because of this element that has seen the merger process take the length of time it has.

H&H Group chief executive Brian Richardson says the deal is very much about bringing together two long-established auctioneering business.

“H&H has seven marts with £120m livestock throughput, with £45m through Swan’s marts. Combined this makes a very significant business.We recognise the heritage in the John Swan business and it is very much the intention to keep growing it,” he told us.

Mr Richardson says not all local farmers are using the John Swan marts at Newtown St Boswells and Wooler to market livestock and this is an area H&H group wants to target. “They have found other ways of marketing their livestock and what we need to do is reintegrate with those farmers,” he explained.

“So we will be looking to get people out onto those farms and talking to them. It is not just about selling livestock in the ring, but about marketing livestock for farmers.

“Whatever farmers want to do in terms of marketing their livestock, we need to be there to help them do that. But the marts at Newtown and Wooler will be the hub of what we do here.

“We want to invest in these sites, bring our land agency and insurance businesses there and develop the sites as rural business centres, not just marts.

“The two marts are currently operating two or three days a week - we want to make them busy all the time.”

Along with the marts, the deal sees H&H acquiring various other property assets, including land.

“There is land with potential for housing and commercial property and we will look to develop those over time, as long as it is surplus land that doesn’t interfere with the operation of the marts,” added Mr Richardson.

Almost 10 years ago, John Swan’s directors revealed a wish to build a new mart on the opposite side of the A68 from the present mart in Newtown St Boswells, freeing up the existing mart site for development, including housing and community facilities.

Quizzed over whether that plan might still be a possibility, Mr Richardson says the financial crisis of 2008 had altered the landscape for new marts.

“Being realistic, after the financial crisis, the ability to generate enough cash to build new marts has become quite difficult to do now.

“We are very much focussed that the Newtown St Boswells mart is in the right place at the moment, and we will invest in that site and develop it.

“As for land around the site, we will look at adding things to that, but I suspect the existing mart will be where it is for quite a few years yet.”