MANY auction marts across the region having to make difficult decisions about their staff.

Carlisle-based holding company H&H Group has taken action to ensure that Harrison and Hetherington, its farmstock auction subsidiary, keeps losses to a minimum during the crisis.

Income for Harrison and Hetherington was virtually eliminated following the outbreak, resulting in the closure of the company's marts at Borderway, Carlisle and Lockerbie.

Permanent staff in the group's operating companies have accepted voluntary pay reductions ranging from 50pc in the case of farmstock staff to lesser amounts for staff in the group's five other subsidiaries, which will continue to work full time to mitigate the loss of farmstock revenue. Casually employed part time staff have been temporarily laid off.

Group chief executive Trevor Hebdon said staff at H&H had made a tremendous sacrifice by agreeing to voluntary pay cuts and some had offered to give up more of their wages to help.

"We are continuing to maintain Borderway Mart's facilities for when trading begins again," he added. "We are working closely with MAFF senior veterinary officers and our local authority to obtain licences for both a collection centre and, in due course, the return to a full livestock auctioneering operation."

Mr Roger Cordingley, chairman of the Yorkshire Livestock Auctioneers Association, painted a similar picture. He said that 29 part-time staff had been laid off at Thirsk auction mart, with similar stories at the other marts across the county. "It is a problem for all of them," he added.

In Teesdale Mr Len Cooper, chairman of Barnard Castle mart, said it had laid off their eight temporary staff. "We have one full time person, who we have managed to keep on to deal with furniture sales. It is difficult, but what can you do when the mart is closed?" he asked.

l A warning was issued this week that many agricultural merchants and animal feed suppliers face ruin.

UKASTA, the leading trade association in the farm supply industry, said its members were facing "horrendous" costs to maintain supplies and services to farmers.