COMMUNITY leaders have spoken of the devastating impact the closure of Alcan will have.
Parish and county councillors have pledged to do all they can to help the workers directly affected, but they fear it may not be enough and there could be wider implications for the whole area.
Lynemouth Parish Council Chairman Cath Davidson has described the situation as “unthinkable” in an area that is still feeling the effects of pit closures.
“It doesn’t take much to imagine what the impact will be. We are already not quite recovered from years ago when the pits closed and now this has come on top. It is unthinkable really,” she said.
“There are no jobs for those people to go to. It would be bad enough if they had to change jobs, but there aren’t any jobs to go to. These are hard working people, doing not the easiest jobs in the world, and now they have been thrown out of work with nowhere to go. They can do re-training, but training for what?
“It is almost too much to think about. The jobs from the pits have never been replaced and I just feel that we are being beaten down.”
She said she feels for workers who will be struggling to pay their bills and she said people have already voiced concerns about the stigma of claiming benefits, even though they are entitled to them.
Coun Davidson is also concerned that the smelter closure will lead to a further breakdown of the community as people may be forced to leave the area.
“The community now is not as close as it used to be. There is still some community spirit and people helping each other out, but it is not quite the same as it used to be. The pits closing broke that up a bit because a lot of the miners moved away over the years and this will not make it any better, it will make it even worse,” she said.
County councillor for Lynemouth Milburn Douglas said that the closure of Alcan will be bad enough for the workers at the plant, but there could also be thousands of contractors at risk, as well as local businesses.
“We knew this was coming some time ago, but this is the hammer blow with the closure being announced,” he said.
“It is very sad and it is another nail in the coffin of the south east Northumberland area.
“It is not only the loss of 515 jobs at the smelter, it is the sub-contractors as well, which is the major fear as there are roughly 2,500 jobs there. There’s also Lynemouth shops and Ellington, Ashington and Newbiggin businesses will also be hit. It is a double whammy for the economy.
“Deprivation is high in this area anyway so this doesn’t help at all. There are two or three generations of families who have worked at Alcan since 1973 and we are talking about young people in their 30s, with families and a mortgage, who are going to be hardest hit because there are no jobs anywhere else for them to go to. I’m very disappointed for the workforce and the community.
“People have said the county council will lose the business rate and that is a point, but the most important thing is how we are going to put bread and butter on the table for families.”
Coun Douglas also called for more support from the Government for the county, saying it is too often overlooked.
“The people of Northumberland are resilient, but we need some support. It is time they addressed the inequality between the North and the South,” he said.
“We need to get Northumberland recognised. From Hadrian’s Wall to Tyneside there seems to be this non-existent area. Our Government needs to recognise that Northumberland is a big part of the North East and there is a lot of talent here. There are a lot of skills in this area, but now there are two or three generations of families who have never worked through no fault of their own because the jobs aren’t there.”
Northumberland County Council Leader Jeff Reid said: “The decision to close the smelter is devastating for the workforce and their families.Rio Tinto Alcan has been one of Northumberland’s major employers for the last 40 years and the loss of the smelter will have a major impact on the people and communities of south east Northumberland, as well as the wider economy.
“We will be working closely with Rio Tinto Alcan on longer term plans for site remediation and economic development.”