Five questions answered on Grangemouth petrochemical plant closure

What has the government's response been?

Owners Ineos announced this morning that the petrochemical plant at the Grangemouth complex in Scotland will close.  We answer five questions on the closure.

Why is the plant closing?

Ineos made the announcement following a meeting with the workforce at the plant and its associated oil refinery this morning.

The decision comes after a long dispute between workers and management. The company had said if the workforce rejected new proposed changes to pay and pensions the plant would close.

Staff rejected both proposals to freeze pay for three years and to reduce pensions.

In a statement the company said:

"The company made it clear that rejection of change would result in closure. Regrettably, the union advised union members to reject any form of change.”

The outcome of the employee vote on the company's survival plan was a 50/50 split.

How many people work at the plant?

About 800 people are employed at the petrochemical plant, as well as other sub-contractors.

What else have Ineos said?

The company statement goes onto say:

"The shareholders met yesterday to consider the future of the business following the result of the employee vote.

"Sadly, the shareholders reached the conclusion that they could not see a future for Grangemouth without change and therefore could no longer continue to fund the business".

 "As a result of this decision, the directors of the petrochemicals business have had no option but to engage the services of a liquidator. It is anticipated that a liquidation process will commence in a week."

What has the government said?

Nothing official as yet. Ministers, including the Scotland Secretary Alistair Carmichael and the Energy Secretary Ed Davey, are meeting in London to decide on a response to the decision.

Labour's Shadow Energy Secretary, Caroline Flint, has requested an Urgent Question on the Government's contingency planning regarding Grangemouth Refinery.

What financial problems has Grangemouth faced?

According to Ineos the plant, which has been shut for a week due to the ongoing dispute, is losing £10m a month.

It had said it was ready to invest £300m in Grangemouth, but only if workers agree to the new terms and conditions.

The Scottish government said at the beginning of the week it had been trying to find a buyer for the site. 

The Grangemouth Oil Refinery in March, 2012, in Grangemouth, Scotland. Photograph: Getty Images.

Heidi Vella is a features writer for Nridigital.com

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Leader: Labour is failing. A hard Brexit is looming. But there is no need for fatalism

There is nothing inevitable about the right’s supremacy or a catastrophic Brexit.

Democracy depends on competent opposition. Governments, however well intentioned, require permanent and effective scrutiny to meet the public interest. For this purpose, the role of Her Majesty’s Opposition was enshrined in law 80 years ago. However, at present, and in the week Article 50 is invoked, this constitutional duty is being fulfilled in name alone. (The Scottish National Party speaks only for the Scottish interest.)

Since re-electing Jeremy Corbyn as its leader, the Labour Party has become the weakest opposition in postwar history. It lost the recent Copeland by-election to the Conservatives (a seat the Tories had not held since 1931) and trails the governing party, by up to 19 points, in opinion polls. The Tories feel no pressure from Labour. They confidently predict they will retain power until 2030 or beyond. Yet as the poll tax debacle and the Iraq War demonstrate, prolonged periods of single-party rule run the danger of calamitous results – not least, this time, the break-up of Britain.

Under Mr Corbyn, who formally lost the confidence of 80 per cent of his MPs last summer (and has not regained it), Labour has the least impressive and least qualified front bench in its history. Its enfeeblement has left a void that no party is capable of filling. “The grass-roots social movement of the left that was supposed to arrive in Jeremy Corbyn’s wake has not shown up,” the academic Nick Pearce, a former head of Gordon Brown’s policy unit, writes on page 36.

In these new times, the defining struggle is no longer between parties but within the Conservative Party. As a consequence, many voters have never felt more unrepresented or disempowered. Aided by an increasingly belligerent right-wing press, the Tory Brexiteers are monopolising and poisoning debate: as the novelist Ian McEwan said, “The air in my country is very foul.” Those who do not share their libertarian version of Brexit Britain are impugned as the “enemies” of democracy. Theresa May has a distinctive vision but will the libertarian right allow her the time and space to enact it?

Let us not forget that the Conservatives have a majority of just 15 or that Labour’s problems did not begin with Mr Corbyn’s leadership. However, his divisiveness and unpopularity have accelerated the party’s decline. Although the Unite general secretary, Len McCluskey, elected by a fraction of his union membership, loftily pronounced that the Labour leader had 15 months left to prove himself, the country cannot afford to wait that long.

Faced with the opposition’s weakness, some have advocated a “progressive alliance” to take on the Conservatives. Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens and the nationalist parties are urged to set aside their tribalism. Yet it is fantasy to believe that such an alliance would provide stable majority government when nearly four million people voted for Ukip in 2015. There has also been chatter about the creation of a new centrist party – the Democrats, or, as Richard Dawkins writes on page 54, the European Party. Under our first-past-the-post electoral system, however, a new party would risk merely perpetuating the fragmentation of the opposition. If Labour is too weak to win, it is too strong to die.

The UK’s departure from the EU poses fundamental questions about the kind of country we wish to be. For some on the right, Brexit is a Trojan Horse to remake Britain as a low-tax, small-state utopia. Others aspire to a protectionist fortress of closed borders and closed minds. Mr Corbyn was re-elected by a landslide margin last summer. The Leave campaign’s victory was narrower yet similarly decisive. But these events are not an excuse for quietism. Labour must regain its historic role as the party of the labour interest. Labour’s purpose is not to serve the interests of a particular faction but to redress the power of capital for the common good. And it must have a leader capable of winning power.

If Labour’s best and brightest MPs are unwilling to serve in the shadow cabinet, they should use their freedom to challenge an under-scrutinised government and prove their worth. They should build cross-party alliances. They should evolve a transformative policy programme. They should think seriously about why there has been a post-liberal turn in our politics.

There is nothing inevitable about the right’s supremacy or a catastrophic Brexit. At present, the mood on the Labour benches is one of fatalism and passivity. This cannot go on.

This article first appeared in the 30 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Wanted: an opposition