Damage limitation moves ahead

A BID to offset the potentially enormous damage to Northumberland’s economy, following the announced closure of the Alcan smelter at Lynemouth, has taken a major step forward after the Government said it would offer support.

Sir Alan Beith MP welcomed the Chancellor’s autumn statement, delivered on Monday, which backed plans to expand the existing Enterprise Zone in the North East to include land around the Port of Blyth.

More than 500 jobs are set to go at Alcan but the knock-on effect across the county is expected to put immense pressure on thousands of support industry employees.

If the Enterprise Zone is expanded, it could spell significant incentives for firms to set up in the area.

But Sir Alan said hopes were still alive that a buyer could be found to take over the plant as a going concern.

“I warmly welcome the Chancellor’s support for the plan to extend the North East Enterprise Zone into Northumberland, which I put to Ministers last week and to which they have responded very quickly,” he said.

“It is one of the measures which will help to build private-sector jobs in Northumberland where we face over-dependency on public sector employment and the potential loss of jobs at the Alcan smelter. The extension of the North East Enterprise Zone is a direct result of meetings I have had with Ministers in response to the proposed sale, and subsequent proposed closure, of the aluminium smelter at Lynemouth. The Government has been ready all along to help ease the impact on Rio Tinto of carbon targets, but the company was simply not interested.

“The Government has also made it clear that they are prepared to talk to any credible potential buyer, but we do have to prepare for the possibility that no buyer will come forward.”

Northumberland has already suffered massive public sector upheaval following the restructuring of the county council, with swingeing budget cuts resulting in more than 1,300 posts being axed following local government reorganisation in 2009.