Potential buyer for threatened smelter

A POTENTIAL buyer has emerged for Lynemouth’s Rio Tinto Alcan plant, but workers are still waiting for a firm offer that could save their jobs.

Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery says he has been in talks with a businessman who already has interests in the industry about plans to make an offer for the closure-threatened aluminium smelter.

“I have been in very early discussions with somebody who is interested in buying the smelter,” said Mr Lavery.

“He works in the aluminium industry, has a good reputation and has a number of aluminium plants, albeit on a much smaller scale than Alcan. He is interested and is looking to try to put some finances together to make a credible offer for Alcan.

“It is a long shot, but what I have got to do as a Member of Parliament is speak to these people and leave no stone unturned to see if anybody wants to bring a serious offer for the business to the table and maintain the jobs at Alcan.

“Until it comes to the point of no return I will continue to do that.”

More than 600 jobs are hanging in the balance after Rio Tinto announced last month that it was to close the plant in a programme to streamline its global operations.

However, Mr Lavery has echoed union leaders’ fears that the company could dismiss any potential offer for the smelter as he says other interested parties have been rejected.

“There have been a lot of companies interested in the business, but Alcan has continually dismissed them as non-credible,” said Mr Lavery.

“The unions have to find out who these ‘non-credible’ people are because if they can latch on to Government funding they could very easily become very credible offers.

“Alcan should be welcoming in people with open arms and letting them have a look at the books and discuss things with the Government.

“No matter what happens, it all comes down to Rio Tinto making a sale, it is their call.”

The MP has already met with Business Secretary Vince Cable to discuss the level of Government support that can be offered to any buyer, particularly in light of new carbon emission taxes that will be introduced in 2013 for such energy-intensive industries.

Next week he will meet Energy Secretary Chris Huhne to discuss the crisis.

Meanwhile, Mr Lavery says he is keeping in close contact with union leaders and workers at the site.

“I speak to them every week,” he said.

“The unions are saying the mood is very downbeat, but the production levels have increased.

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The workforce is knuckling down and doing what it is good at — producing aluminium in increasing amounts. It is not the case where people have their heads in their hands, they are doing their work and doing a fantastic job while they wait to see what happens.

“Let’s hope that we can get something sorted out.”

Earlier this week the GMB union hit out at the smelter’s owners for not doing enough to save the plant, but said there were hopes that either a sale could be completed soon, or part of the site could be retained.

Regional Organiser Keir Howe said: “The GMB believes Rio Tinto Alcan is not prepared to fight to save the full smelter site and has demonstrated this over the last few months both through its actions, inaction and words.

“However, management outlined that there is a possibility that they could retain three sections of the smelter if they can be run competitively and sustainably. These include carbon, casting and the port, and would run on reduced manpower and costs.

“We will continue to push the case to save the whole site whilst also exploring any other avenues to save jobs in casting, carbon and the port.”

He also called on the company to provide the names of any interested buyers.

“We await disclosure of this information by the company and will be disappointed if this is not forthcoming,” said Mr Howe.

“We will continue to fight to save the site and the jobs of hundreds of workers, and will be meeting the company again this week.

“We will continue to work with the local MPs, council and any other bodies to promote the sale and save jobs. We continue to pressurise the Government on this matter.”

No one from Rio Tinto Alcan was available for comment.

The Lynemouth smelter provides 510 jobs, while the power station side of the business employs 120 people.