By Martin Kelly
The Scottish Government’s precautionary decision to seek potential buyers for the stranded Grangemouth plant has received the backing of the UNITE union.
Today Finance Secretary John Swinney confirmed reports that the SNP Government was actively seeking out interested parties prepared to buy the refinery and petrochemicals plant.
The move by the Scottish Government follows a refusal by the company’s owners Ineos, to heed a request by First Minister Alex Salmond who called for the plant to be “fired up” and for negotiations to continue.
Mr Salmond revealed this weekend that previous negotiations had been nearing agreement before Ineos unexpectedly walked out of the ACAS talks. The company shut down the plant claiming it could not risk the union calling its members out on strike.
However since then, UNITE officials have publicly confirmed a no-strike stance this year and signalled a continuation of the pledge into the new year. Despite this, management have refused to confirm whether they will start the plant back up.
There has also been growing anger at what union officials have described as an attempt by the company to blackmail workers into agreeing to cuts in their contract that will see them lose thousands of pounds, with a threat that the plant may close if they refuse.
Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland this morning, John Swinney repeated his government’s calls for both sides to return to the negotiating table and for the plant to be fired up. The Finance secretary also confirmed that the Scottish Government was taking precautionary action in the event that Ineos carried through with their threat to abandon what the company claim is a loss making plant.
Speaking to BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme, Mr Swinney said: “I don’t think it will come as any surprise to anyone that the government is looking for alternative options and there certainly will be other players around the globe interested in this particular plant.
“We have certainly had discussions with other players and the Scottish government will engage in any discussions that are helpful to ensure Grangemouth can continue to make a major contribution to the health and well-being of the Scottish economy.”
The Scottish Government Minister signalled confidence that the future of the plant was not in doubt and added: “…there is a buyer out there”.
In a later statment, Mr Swinney added:
“The priority today is to urge that the Grangemouth refinery starts working again. Every day Grangemouth is idle, the situation becomes more dangerous and we are urging INEOS to fire up the plant.
“The union and management both say they see a great future for the Grangemouth complex if the required investment comes in. They both support that investment, so if we can get them to build on these aspects of common ground, then we can get the plant working again and the other discussions, negotiations, consultations can take place in a much better atmosphere than we have at present.”
“We urge the trade union to continue to make clear there will be no strike action or threat of strike action hanging over the plant. A working plant will be a far better position in which to continue making decisions about the future of the Grangemouth complex, and remember that both INEOS and the union agree that the plant has an exciting and viable long term future.
“In view of the clear danger of a stalemate developing between the owners and the union, the Scottish Government has indeed been actively pursuing alternative options. This is what the people of Scotland expect. However, the overwhelming priority if to get the Grangemouth plant back into operation.”
The moves by the Scottish Government in seeking out potential buyers were backed by the union representing the Grangemouth workers.
Unite general secretary, Len McCluskey said: “The First Minister is absolutely correct to raise the prospect of changed ownership at Grangemouth. Unite will support him in whatever way we can to ensure a secure future for Grangemouth and its working community.
“Jim Ratcliffe’s behaviour has exposed a dreadful frailty at the heart of our energy supply, which is that one man’s power and wealth can hold our government and citizens to ransom.
“Our politicians now need to step up. Our public utilities cannot be run by those indifferent to considerations of social responsibility.
“Unite calls upon politicians in Edinburgh and Westminster to support a new beginning for Grangemouth, free of the tyranny of one man’s whims.
“If this means securing financial assistance – or even nationalisation – then this must be done.”
In what will be viewed as criticism of the UK Government’s nuclear deal with China and French energy giant EDF, Mr McCluskey added: “We can have no objections from Westminster when it has handed our nuclear energy future over to the state-owned Chinese and French nuclear industries.”
In a statement released today, Ineos said:
“INEOS Grangemouth (UK) it is now considering the numbers of employees that have given their support to its Survival Plan.
“Results will be presented to a meeting of its shareholders today. INEOS shareholders will then decide the next step in the process.
“The company will first communicate the shareholders views to the workforce directly on Wednesday.
“Consultations on the Survival Plan formally began last Thursday. It will take 45 days before any changes to terms and conditions can be introduced and 60 days before any changes to pensions can be implemented.
“A further announcement will be made as soon as possible.”