Cowie Panel Processors

Highlighting best practice as a representative in The Parliamentary Review

The ability to listen and learn from one another has always been vital in parliament, in business and in most aspects of daily life. But at this particular moment in time, as national and global events continue to reiterate, it is uncommonly crucial that we forge new channels of communication and reinforce existing ones. The following article from Cowie Panel Processors is an attempt to do just that. We would welcome your thoughts on this or any other Parliamentary Review article.

Highlighting best practice
Ronnie Bateman, managing
Manufacturing special
Based in Cowie, Stirling, Scotland, Cowie Panel Processors
Ltd is essentially a social enterprise company, performing
the dual role of, on the one hand, providing well-paid
jobs and work to the local community and, on the other hand,
offering a genuinely useful commercial service to a large
neighbouring company. Established in 1988, the company has
since seen ups and downs but is currently under the successful
management of energetic and determined leadership. It’s a
shining example of how commercial practice can be used to
advance the social wellbeing of communities. At the helm of this
is a collaborative board of directors, on behalf of whom Ronnie
Bateman (managing director) writes the following Review article.
The company’s beginnings
Essentially, the company was started with two principal goals in mind. The first
relates to the fact that Cowie, Stirling had high unemployment (particularly
among young males) in the 1980s – not surprising given that it was a village
whose economic centre of gravity was the mining industry. Recovering from this
would not be easy for a small village such as Cowie, Stirling, so it was decided as
a community that it was necessary to start an enterprise that would take on local
young unemployed people, give them training and earn them money: in a word, to
play a modest role in rebooting the Cowie, Stirling economy. A social enterprise, it
was thought, would help greatly in this regard.
»Managing director:
»Established in 1988
»Based in Cowie, Stirling
»Services: Recycling wood-
based panel products into
special pallets
»No. of employees: 22
»Functions as a wholly
owned subsidiary of a social
Cowie Panel Processors
The second reason it was started was
because there was genuine demand in
the market for a certain product. This
product was special pallets for a nearby
multinational called Caberboard, who,
following ownership change in 1997,
is now called Norbord. The idea was to
obtain waste panel product from their
plant and to convert this into usable
pallets. From them we now take up
to 7,000 tonnes of wood-based panel
material every year and process it. This
has the added benefit of preventing
needless landfill waste and thus being
agreeable to the environment. If there
were ever an example of a sustainable
practice, this would be it. Every
stakeholder benefits from this model,
including the world at large.
Challenges we faced and
In 2011, there was a severe downturn.
For five years straight prior to this,
there had been losses. The company
lacked the necessary management
skills to take it forward, and
production decreased accordingly.
Particularly helpful here was the fact
that I had for 30 years been European
purchasing manager at Norbord, in
which time I got an excellent sense
of the business and its model. I was
uniquely positioned to help navigate
the business in these difficult times.
Our first diagnosis was that there was
an inadequate incentive structure
in place. We therefore increased
the wages to above minimum wage
and introduced a bonus scheme.
We then adopted more efficient
production processes. This meant
newer, better functioning machinery
across the board – not one of our
current machines, therefore, suffers
from the problem of old age. These
two measures increased morale and
thereby improved the company’s
financial footing. As a result, the
whole operation has been brought
once more into proper working order,
and the past seven years have been a
To embark on this path required
a value system. For me and the
company, this is quite simple: we
rely on trust and encourage personal
responsibility. Ultimately, this company
is not in it for the money. The profit
that we make now is put back into
the plant and into the employees’
pockets. This is about bringing benefit
to the local community and improving
people’s lives, which we have indeed
done by now paying all of our workers
well above living wage. All we ask is
that our employees take responsibility
for their work and trust one another.
Only by doing this will we have a team
worthy of the task.
Production unit 1
Quality control
We rely on
trust and
Highlighting best practice
It’s safe to say that, as far as staff
morale is concerned, we have
succeeded – a tall order considering
these are mostly young men with
more energy than they know what
to do with. The challenge was to rid
the company of that, for want of a
better term, “wishy-washy” feel, and
to bring about the feeling that this is
a genuinely consequential enterprise.
Whereas the absentee rate was initially
8 per cent in the company’s darker
days, it is now below 1 per cent. Our
employees genuinely want to turn
up, get to work and earn money.
Moreover, in 2011, most of our
workers were on tax credits; now none
of them are.
It’s difficult to know the extent of our
impact on the community, but we
have done our utmost to help Cowie,
Stirling escape its difficult predicament
in the post-1980s era. In 1988, Cowie,
Stirling was mostly comprised of social
housing; now, by contrast, only half is
social housing, and yet more houses
are being built. To the extent we’ve
played a role in making this the case,
we areproud.
Gratitude and looking to the
Gratitude must also be expressed to
Stirling Council and our Community
Enterprise Company for their
moral support. Through them
we’ve managed to engage with
the wider community in a way that
would otherwise be impossible. In
collaboration with these entities we
donate to student bursaries, schools,
churches and a credit union, among
many others. In the case of Cowie,
Stirling, it was particularly apposite that
we supported the establishment of a
credit union, as prior to this “money
sharks” were operating in the area.
With regard to the future, we have
plans to branch out and introduce
new products, as well as establishing
different companies as clients. We’re
also looking to increase and diversify
our workforce, in which men currently
preponderate. Nevertheless, we look
forward to yet more years of success
and profit, which, as of now, is reliably
forthcoming year-on-year.
If there were
ever an
example of
practice, this
would be it
Production unit 2

This article was sponsored by Cowie Panel Processors. The Parliamentary Review is wholly funded by the representatives who write for it.