Fight goes on to save Alcan plant

BUSINESS Secretary Vince Cable has promised to have another look at offers to buy Rio Tinto Alcan’s Lynemouth plant dismissed by the site’s Canadian-based owner as lacking credibility.

Three Northumberland MPs – Wansbeck’s Ian Lavery, Blyth Valley’s Ronnie Campbell and Berwick’s Alan Beith – met Mr Cable last week as part of their last-ditch bid to save Northumberland’s largest private-sector employer.

The closure announcement by the multi-national firm two weeks ago has left 515 jobs hanging in the balance at a particularly unfortunate time for the county as it coincides with the release of spiralling unemployment figures.

Mr Lavery said: “Myself and Ronnie and Alan Beith met Vince Cable last Wednesday night and put the case to him.

“He is very much aware of the situation, and my view is that we shouldn’t be looking in the early stages at re-training and re-skilling.

“Alcan had said that there were a number of non-credible interested parties enquiring about the plant, and I wanted Vince Cable to facilitate any interested parties to assess their position with regards to Alcan.

“There might be someone out there that’s credible and rather than going to Alcan, I suggested that the government should be in a position to look at this.

“It’s a positive step forward, but I fully understand that Alcan has got the final say as it’s their business.

“I just want to, at this very early point in time, look at the plant as a whole and whether we can save it, rather than looking at retraining.

“I also met with the unions and management, and they are proceeding with the consultation process.

“I’m positive about where we are. Rather than racing from A to Z, we are taking things one step at a time.

“We are now at B, heading towards Z, sorting things out in the right order, doing it strategically.

“We’ve then got to move on and ask ourselves what is the next phase.

“We are far from there yet, but a buyer could come forward.”

As the News Post Leader went to press, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, was due to deliver his autumn statement, expected to include £250m worth of measures to help energy-intensive businesses such as aluminium plants cope with costly new regulations.

Mr Lavery was hopeful that that expected announcement would encourage potential buyers in coming forward.

He added: “What really frightens me is that last week the statistics for unemployment were announced.

“In Wansbeck, there are 16.6 applicants per Jobcentre vacancy. In Ashington, the figure is in the 30s.

“The statistics, as far as employment and unemployment go, are absolutely frightening, so to even contemplate the closure of the biggest private-sector employer in the county is just so frightening.”

n Ian Lavery’s fortnightly column is on Page 39