Grangemouth dispute: Buyer sought for plant, says Scottish government

BBC Scotland cameras took to the skies to show the scale of the Grangemouth refinery and petrochemical plant.

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The Scottish government is trying to find a buyer for the Grangemouth refinery and petrochemicals plant.

Scotland's Finance Secretary John Swinney said ministers had been having discussions "with other players".

An ongoing dispute between owners Ineos and the union Unite has resulted in the plant being temporarily closed.

Ineos has said it will make an announcement to workers on Wednesday on the future of the complex.

UK ministers have held talks with Scottish ministers to discuss the situation. They urged both sides to get round the negotiating table.

Grangemouth plays an important part in bringing ashore North Sea oil and supplies petrol and diesel to the whole of Scotland and the north of England.

Speaking to BBC Radio Scotland's Good Morning Scotland programme, Mr Swinney said: "I don't think it will come as any surprise to anyone that the government is looking for alternative options and there certainly will be other players around the globe interested in this particular plant.

"We have certainly had discussions with other players and the Scottish government will engage in any discussions that are helpful to ensure Grangemouth can continue to make a major contribution to the health and well-being of the Scottish economy."

He added that government ownership was "not appropriate" and that there was a "buyer out there".

Scottish Energy Minister Fergus Ewing joined talks by telephone on Tuesday afternoon with Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael and UK Energy Minister Michael Fallon.

Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland's Newsdrive programme, Mr Carmichael said: "There is a real imperative for them [Ineos and Unite] - not just for the future of the Grangemouth plant, but for the wider Scottish economy - to get back to the table, to get talking, to explore the issues that require to be explored in good faith and with a view to getting the plant operational as soon as possible.

"Frankly nothing else is as important as that at the moment."

The Scottish secretary also said both governments were making "contingency plans" for the Grangemouth site, if the owners decide not to reopen it.

Senior figures from Ineos met in London earlier to discuss the outcome of their challenge to the workforce to accept reduced pay and pension.

'Russian roulette'

Responding to Mr Swinney's comments on talks about a takeover of the site, Declan Sealy, a director for Ineos at Grangemouth, said: "Like every business, we look at buying and selling assets and businesses all the time.

"Our focus here today is on trying to implement a survival plan that brings a future for Grangemouth."

Jim Ratcliffe

However, it is not thought there has been any discussion with Ineos of a sale or a different operator.

Unite said it would support the Scottish government in whatever way it could "to ensure a secure future for Grangemouth and its working community".

The union's Scottish secretary, Pat Rafferty, said Mr Swinney's intervention was a "welcome" one.

He added: "This site is so key to the Scottish economy, so key to the UK economy, it cannot be treated the way it is being treated.

"It cannot be used in a Russian roulette type of way of 'we get what we want or we close this site down'. It is just so irresponsible and that type of behaviour cannot be tolerated.

"This site cannot close, that's not an option and it does have a future, a really good, bright future."

Survival plan

Unite said half of the 1,350-strong workforce had rejected Ineos' proposed change to contracts.

The company gave employees until 18:00 on Monday to accept plans, including a pay freeze and downgrading of pensions.

Ineos

The union said the refusal of the workforce to accept the new contract terms was a mandate to return to talks and fire up the plant.

It was shut down last week by Ineos in response to a strike threat over the disciplining of a union representative at the complex.

Ineos had said the plant would close without new investment and changes to workers' terms and conditions.

The firm said it would communicate the shareholders' views directly to the workforce on Wednesday.

However, Ineos has warned a decision on the plant's fate could take several days.

A spokesman added: "Ineos is now considering the numbers of employees that have given their support to its survival plan.

"Consultations on the survival plan formally began last Thursday. It will take 45 days before any changes to terms and conditions can be introduced and 60 days before any changes to pensions can be implemented."

Stalemate danger

Majority shareholder Jim Ratcliffe has said if the petro-chemical plant goes, the neighbouring refinery is unlikely to survive.

Unite's Pat Rafferty: "We do need a responsible owner"

He has also said Ineos may not be willing to pay the cost of a prolonged shutdown.

Finance Secretary Mr Swinney repeated the Scottish government's calls for the firm to "fire up the plant" and urged both sides to avoid "the clear danger of a stalemate".

He added: "The trade union has given, in my estimation, a very clear and unequivocal commitment that there will be no industrial action this side of Christmas, and indeed last night the union said there would be no strike action well into 2014.

"I think we should take these commitments at face value, accept them, and get the plant operating again."

The refinery, which has an annual capacity of 10 million tonnes, provides most of the fuel in Scotland, Northern England and Northern Ireland.

The petrochemicals facility at the site manufactures more than two million tonnes of chemical products per year, which are later transformed into essential items such as bottles and pipes, cabling and insulation and food packaging.

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