Wednesday, 23 October 2013

The wider impact of the loss of Grangemouth peterochemical jobs

Around 800 people across West Lothian and Falkirk are to lose their jobs with the announcement today that Ineos are to shut down the Grangemouth petrochemical plant with immediate effect. The fate of the remaining 570 jobs linked to the refinery on the same site are yet to be determined.

It is one of the biggest loss of jobs in the area following on the the 3,100 lost with the shutting of the Motorola plant at Bathgate in 2001, the same number lost their jobs at NEC, Livingston the same year. More recently 500 lost their jobs with the shutting down of the Bausch and Lomb plant at Livingston.

But the danger of losing jobs in the petrochemical plant is nothing new. Indeed back in May 1992 my some time sparring partner the MP for Linlithgow and East Falkirk mentioned then recent job losses at the plant in his maiden speech:

"The town of Grangemouth is at the centre of Falkirk, East and has been noted for some time as a petrochemical town, boasting substantial production facilities for BP Oil, BP Chemicals, ICI, General-Electric Plastics, and Rhom and Haas (Scotland). My constituents are pleased at the commitment to investment by those companies, notably the £600 million investment by BP Chemicals in an ethylene cracker plant, the process technology labs of ICI and the Rhom and Haas plant upgrade. However, all is not what it once was. Harry Ewing noted the vast expansion of Grangemouth in 1971, but in 1971, when speaking about new employment, he said that the position was rapidly changing. I say without criticism of local management in Grangemouth that, in 1991–92, more than 1,000 job losses were announced in the town. Some 300 jobs have gone at the BP refinery, 250 have gone at ICI and 200 more redundancies are being sought. In addition, there were major job losses in the timber yards, which were made much of in 1971 by my predecessor."

It is sad day for the 800 who have lost their jobs today. However, both sides have been acting like stubborn mules in recent days, if not years. The owners seem to be doing all they can to get what they view as a white elephant off their books, while at the same time the workers are not prepared to take any chance in pay and conditions, fearing their own job without considering that all the jobs in the sector could be gone.

When Ineos came with what they called a survival plan, you would have thought that alarm bells would have been ringing with the workers. The fact that the plant has survived so long without a major change in conditions when others the area have had to accept such adjustments, knowing that if they didn't their job could disappear.

But the Grangemouth plants is almost a fifedom of Unite. The same union that has been at the centre of the Fallkirk Labour Party's election shenanigans. The Union appears to have been promising the workers take a stand and we'll see that everything will be alright, only to have found that Ineos were also not going to budge. it appears that the 570 jobs in the refinery are now also in danger. But with that there is also other jobs in the oil industry and possibly the ability of Scotland to actually process the oil that lies off its shore.

The last element is going to be of extremely great concern to Alex Salmond because part of the way he was going to fund an independent Scotland was through the production and processing off 'Scottish' oil within Scotland. If the Grangemouth plant were to totally close and be mothballed or decommissioned it could take years if at all to be able to get the processing of oil within Scotland up to the speed that would make it capable of supporting Scotland's economy to the extent that Salmond wants it to. If the oil is going to have to be processes and refined elsewhere that would be extra costs and less value added within Scotland causing a rather big hole in his economic plan.

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