Hundreds of jobs at stake as smelter site faces up to closure threat

HUNDREDS of jobs are hanging in the balance after Rio Tinto Alcan announced this week that its Lynemouth smelter could close if no buyer is found for it.

The announcement comes after a strategic review, carried out with a view to streamlining the group’s aluminium operations worldwide, concluded that the Northumbrian power station and smelter have no role to play in its future.

The site, currently up for sale, is Northumberland’s biggest private-sector employer, with around 630 staff and supporting up to 3,000 further jobs in its supply chain.

The Canadian-based company is confident it will find a buyer for the power station, securing around 120 jobs, but it admits that selling the smelter will be a tougher proposition.

The site’s corporate affairs director, John McCabe told the News Post Leader: “We are hopeful that the power station will be sold, and we are still talking to a potential buyer.

“As for the smelter, we have long accepted that it is the most difficult challenge to find a buyer for.

“There is currently no credible offer on the table for the smelter, and we are making all our employees aware of that.

“We will continue to run the business as effectively and as safely as possible, but its future is uncertain.”

Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery said: “I’ve already spoken to the energy minister, Charles Hendry, and he tells me a number of announcements are about to be made to assist Rio Tinto Alcan financially.

“The first one, the renewable obligation certificate banding, is due to be announced this week.

“I am disappointed that Rio Tinto has announced the fact that they are to possibly close the smelting plant and that all the details have not yet been released.

“It’s very premature, and I’m very disappointed in their actions.

“They are, in effect, juggling with the lives of 650 employees and their families. This is not in the best interests of anyone.”

A dozen other plants in Australia, the US, France and Germany also face being sold off by the firm. Rio Tinto Alcan’s chief executive Tom Albanese said: “The assets identified for divestment are sound businesses that are well managed, with productive workforces, but they are no longer aligned with our strategy.

“We believe they have a bright future under new ownership.

“The strength of our balance sheet means that we can choose the most opportune method and timing to divest ourselves of these assets, which may not occur until the economic climate improves.

“In the meantime, we will continue to run these operations safely and efficiently.”

The smelter site began operating in 1974 at a cost of £54m, two years after the opening of the 420mw power station.

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