MP seeks assurance in bid to save jobs

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ENERGY Secretary Chris Huhne has been tackled by MPs as they campaign for support for Lynemouth’s Alcan aluminium plant.

The Herald reported last week that more than 600 jobs are at risk at the power station and smelter as Rio Tinto Alcan looks to sell or close the plant.

Bosses say the business is just about breaking even and any profits would be wiped out by new green taxes in 2013, and while a buyer is lined up for the power station, no interest has been shown in the smelter.

In Parliament last Thursday Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery asked Mr Huhne what support the Government can offer such energy-intensive industries to ease the pressure from the taxes.

He said: “Some 650 private sector jobs are hanging by a thread. The company says that the problem is the green taxes implemented by the Government, which will wipe out £50million in annual profit.

“Will the Minister say when he will make announcements on the renewables obligation certificates banding and on the energy-intensive industries’ package, and can he assure the House that those packages combined will prevent mass job losses in the energy-intensive industry sector?”

Mr Huhne said it was regrettable that Rio Tinto Alcan announced its intentions before seeing details of the renewables obligation, which has now been published, and that the energy efficiency package for such industries should be in place by the end of the year.

However, he said Rio Tinto refused to give guarantees about jobs if it receives support.

“In our discussions with Rio Tinto I asked the company whether it would give a guarantee about local employment if it received the support that it wanted in converting the electricity generation plant to biomass. It did not give that guarantee,” he said.

“That is regrettable, and the hon gentleman will have noticed that the Alcan decision is part of a wider programme of worldwide disposals by the company.”

Berwick MP Sir Alan Beith also spoke up for the plant during questions to the Secretary of State, asking if he would be willing to enter discussions with any new buyer for the business.

Mr Huhne said: “I would be delighted to have discussions. I want to see jobs preserved both at Lynemouth and in the rest of the country. We hope that aluminium can continue to be produced in this country because in our thrust towards low-carbon transition we will need aluminium as part of the raw materials for that revolution.”

After the session Sir Alan said: “The loss of over 600 jobs would be devastating to Northumberland.

“I am pleased Chris Huhne has given his assurance that he will try to preserve these jobs in Lynemouth, however we should be preparing for the possibility of no buyer coming forward for the aluminium smelter. If this happens I will be calling for the whole former mining area from Blyth to Amble to be given Enterprise Zone status.”