Rescue deal hopes fade for threatened smelter

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HOPES are fading of finding a rescue deal for Lynemouth’s under-threat aluminium smelter.

Bosses of the Rio Tinto Alcan plant met MPs last week to explain their intention to close the plant, putting more than 600 jobs at risk.

The meeting was requested by Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery to question why the decision has been made and try to encourage a re-think.

Union leaders and Blyth Valley MP Ronnie Campbell were also invited to the session at the Heathrow Airport Sofitel Hotel to put forward their own queries and suggestions.

However, Mr Lavery said the meeting was ‘very disappointing’ and offered no hope to smelter workers.

“At a meeting just before Christmas I asked the local management if we could meet as a group with the people who actually made the decision to put Alcan under review procedure and close it so this meeting was a result of that request,” he said.

“The unions asked all the necessary questions of the executives with regard to the situation at the plant, why the decision has been made and how it was made, but the conclusion of the meeting is that it is going to be very difficult indeed to save the plant.

“There wasn’t any hope whatsoever.

“The executives were trying to focus on what sort of jobs could be created once Alcan has gone and to concentrate on doing everything they could to ensure job creation, albeit not in the same positions.

“I think it was a very disappointing meeting, not surprising, but very disappointing.”

Mr Lavery said the business bosses blamed the introduction of new ‘green taxes’ from 2013 for forcing the closure, which he disputed as energy-intensive industries will be offered a support package from the Government to help them absorb the burden.

And he said a request for the company to extend the redundancy consultation process met with little response.

“I did ask if they would consider extending the period of consultation so that people can basically put their lives in order, but I think that fell on deaf ears,” he said.

The MP also said he has heard nothing from a potential buyer for the smelter for some time.

“We now need to convince people that this plant can continue and it is viable and I’m hoping that even at the last minute somebody will come forward,” he said.

“The interested person that was in contact with me regularly hasn’t been in touch for quite some time so it looks like that interest might have waned.”

Mr Lavery said he will continue to fight for the plant and will present a petition of almost 5,000 names in Parliament in the next few weeks, calling for it to be saved.

“The general public have been fantastic in their support for the Save Our Smelter campaign,” he said.

Consultation about the closure of the smelter, which employs 510 people, will end in February.

The power station at the site provides a further 120 jobs and talks are ongoing with a potential buyer.

Rio Tinto Alcan Corporate Affairs Director John McCabe said: “We are still in consultation with the unions and the employee representatives and that process will go on until the end of February. Nothing will be confirmed until then.

“There are no buyers for the smelter, but we are in fairly advanced talks with a buyer for the power station.

“There is nothing concrete yet, but we hope that we will see the power station change hands and therefore have a long-term future under new ownership.”

Mr McCabe confirmed that one of the production lines at the smelter is still out of operation following a power cut last month, and another is down by 25 per cent.