Ministers join forces to keep plant open

John Swinney

Scottish and UK ministers raised hopes yesterday that the giant Grangemouth chemicals plant has a “great future” after they put their differences aside to battle to save it from closure.

Ineos, the owners of the petrochemicals complex, was last night considering a last-ditch offer by unions seeking to protect thousands of jobs.

Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael and Scottish Finance Secretary John Swinney – fierce adversaries in the independence debate – joined forces to hold talks with the firm and unions.

A shock decision by Ineos to close the petrochemicals part of the site on Wednesday forced union members to capitulate and accept a previously-rejected plan to safeguard its future.

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey, who held talks with First Minister Alex Salmond yesterday, said the union had decided it had to embrace the company’s survival strategy, “warts and all”, in the wake of the closure move.

Managers were yesterday understood to be discussing “everything that has been said” before deciding whether to reverse the closure, and the loss of 800 direct jobs and those of up to 2,000 contractors.

The U-turn by Ineos appeared to offer the best hope of saving the Fife plant, with UK Government officials playing down the “challenging” prospect of finding a buyer or attracting investors because of the losses, and capital required.

Politicians said contingency plans were in place to avoid shortages at filling stations, despite Grangemouth providing 70% of Scotland’s road fuel.

After a series of meetings yesterday, Mr Swinney said: “Everybody accepts that Grangemouth has got a great future.

“What we need to do is resolve these outstanding issues, get the investment plan implemented and improve the prospects for the workers in this plant.”

Mr Carmichael also expressed hopes, saying: “We are in a much better place today in relation to the future of the plant than we were yesterday. There remains, of course, a great deal to be done.”

Mr McCluskey said: “This plant is on cold shut down and each day makes it harder to start again, which is why the stewards made the offer.”

Tom Crotty, a director of Ineos, said: “The management on the site will listen to what Unite has said.”