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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A swimming pool and a bleeding toe put my medical competency in doubt

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Sometimes the search engine wins. 

The brutal heatwave affecting southern Europe this summer has become known among locals as “Lucifer”. Having just returned from Italy, I fully understand the nickname. An early excursion caused the beginnings of sunstroke, so we abandoned plans to explore the cultural heritage of the Amalfi region and strayed no further than five metres from the hotel pool for the rest of the week.

The children were delighted, particularly my 12-year-old stepdaughter, Gracie, who proceeded to spend hours at a time playing in the water. Towelling herself after one long session, she noticed something odd.

“What’s happened there?” she asked, holding her foot aloft in front of my face.

I inspected the proffered appendage: on the underside of her big toe was an oblong area of glistening red flesh that looked like a chunk of raw steak.

“Did you injure it?”

She shook her head. “It doesn’t hurt at all.”

I shrugged and said she must have grazed it. She wasn’t convinced, pointing out that she would remember if she had done that. She has great faith in plasters, though, and once it was dressed she forgot all about it. I dismissed it, too, assuming it was one of those things.

By the end of the next day, the pulp on the underside of all of her toes looked the same. As the doctor in the family, I felt under some pressure to come up with an explanation. I made up something about burns from the hot paving slabs around the pool. Gracie didn’t say as much, but her look suggested a dawning scepticism over my claims to hold a medical degree.

The next day, Gracie and her new-found holiday playmate, Eve, abruptly terminated a marathon piggy-in-the-middle session in the pool with Eve’s dad. “Our feet are bleeding,” they announced, somewhat incredulously. Sure enough, bright-red blood was flowing, apparently painlessly, from the bottoms of their big toes.

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Often, what patients discover on the internet causes them undue alarm, and our role is to provide context and reassurance. But not infrequently, people come across information that outstrips our knowledge. On my return from our room with fresh supplies of plasters, my wife looked up from her sun lounger with an air of quiet amusement.

“It’s called ‘pool toe’,” she said, handing me her iPhone. The page she had tracked down described the girls’ situation exactly: friction burns, most commonly seen in children, caused by repetitive hopping about on the abrasive floors of swimming pools. Doctors practising in hot countries must see it all the time. I doubt it presents often to British GPs.

I remained puzzled about the lack of pain. The injuries looked bad, but neither Gracie nor Eve was particularly bothered. Here the internet drew a blank, but I suspect it has to do with the “pruning” of our skin that we’re all familiar with after a soak in the bath. This only occurs over the pulps of our fingers and toes. It was once thought to be caused by water diffusing into skin cells, making them swell, but the truth is far more fascinating.

The wrinkling is an active process, triggered by immersion, in which the blood supply to the pulp regions is switched off, causing the skin there to shrink and pucker. This creates the biological equivalent of tyre treads on our fingers and toes and markedly improves our grip – of great evolutionary advantage when grasping slippery fish in a river, or if trying to maintain balance on slick wet rocks.

The flip side of this is much greater friction, leading to abrasion of the skin through repeated micro-trauma. And the lack of blood flow causes nerves to shut down, depriving us of the pain that would otherwise alert us to the ongoing tissue damage. An adaptation that helped our ancestors hunt in rivers proves considerably less use on a modern summer holiday.

I may not have seen much of the local heritage, but the trip to Italy taught me something new all the same. 

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear