POLITICIANS and union bosses have called for jobs at a Helensburgh supermarket to be “fully protected” in the event of any takeover of the store’s owners.

The plea comes amid widespread speculation that the Morrisons chain is being eyed up by a number of private equity firms.

A consortium led by the Fortress private equity firm, backed by Japanese bank Softbank, is believed to be the front-runner to buy the company after its offer was accepted by Morrisons’ directors.

The Bradford-based company bought Helensburgh’s former Waitrose supermarket last year and opened the doors of its new store in December, seven months after Waitrose closed.

Former West Scotland MSP and Helensburgh resident Maurice Corry says the 250 jobs at the Helensburgh store – for which more than 1,300 people applied – are “absolutely critical to the local economy” and must be protected in the event of any takeover deal being finalised.

Morrisons also has stores in Dunoon and Oban, as well as in nearby Dumbarton.

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Mr Corry said: “I was proud to lead the fight to bring Waitrose to Helensburgh over a decade ago which brought so many critical jobs and ensured people had a high quality supermarket shopping experience on their doorstep.

“I also wholeheartedly supported Morrisons’ bid to take over the site last year to protect these jobs. Understandably, there will be concerns and many questions over what would happen if a takeover of Morrisons takes place.

“Any bidders must give a guarantee that all these jobs would be protected going forward, including at the fuel station. As we look to recover from the Covid pandemic, it is imperative these jobs are not lost from the town and the wider Argyll and Bute area. That would have a major impact on many families.

“I will be continuing to monitor this issue closely as a local resident and hope that these supermarkets in our region can continue to enjoy a bright future.”

Helensburgh and Lomond’s MSP, Jackie Baillie, added: “The news of this takeover may cause of concern for the many local people who are employed by Morrisons both in the Helensburgh and Dumbarton stores.

“I have worked with Morrisons in the past to ensure that local jobs are protected and I will have no hesitation in doing so again.

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“The pandemic, which is not yet over, has created great economic uncertainty. It is of the utmost importance that no local jobs are threatened by any potential takeover and any new owner must commit to that before moving forward with talks.”

Joanne McGuinness, national officer of the shop workers’ union Usdaw, said: “Morrisons has accepted and is recommending a buyout deal from the global investment manager Fortress and we note assurances for staff.

“We are now in discussions with Morrisons current management and the prospective new owners to ensure that our members’ interests and the long term future of the business are protected throughout this process. In the meantime we are providing our members with the support and advice they need through this period of uncertainty.”

The recommendation that the Fortress offer be accepted follows an initial approach last month by another private equity firm, Clayton, Dubilier and Rice, based in New York.

And on Monday, another New York private equity firm, Apollo, became the third to reveal its interest in a possible deal.

Morrisons did not respond to a request for comment.