The most likely prospect of the massive petrochemical plant being saved rests with current owner Ineos reviving its controversial survival plan.
But majority shareholder Jim Ratcliffe will have to decide if he wants to sanction £300 million of investment to upgrade the plant after the events at Grangemouth in recent weeks which have escalated into one of the most bitter industrial disputes in the UK in decades. About 680 workers – almost half the workforce and most of the blue-collar technicians – rejected the cut to pay and pensions last week.
But the firm’s shock announcement to close the petrochemical plant has sharpened minds and prompted the union’s sudden capitulation and “embrace” of the deal yesterday in an effort to save the plant. Political and public pressure is also now building on the firm to perform a similar U-turn and bring its survival plan back to the table.
Alex Salmond has said the plant cannot be allowed to fail, while Prime Minister David Cameron said yesterday that he was “hopeful that a deal can be done”.
The deal would see staff accept cuts to pay and pensions, with the firm then investing £300 million to modernise the plant and allow it capitalise on the shale gas boom in the US, as North Sea gas supplies dwindle.
Mr Ratcliffe, the 61-year-old chemical engineer turned industrialist, will be mulling over the deal overnight with a decision expected later today.
But his hardline approach so far indicates that a deal to save the plant is far from certain. Suspicions are widespread that the billionaire wanted to close the petrochemical plant – which the firm claims loses millions of pounds annually – from the start.
The firm’s un-compromising stance has provoked a confrontation with the unions. Mr Ratcliffe has talked previously about the drawback of his international firm doing business in the UK, including the overheads and difficult union relations.
So as well as the agreement to the company’s new terms, Ineos is also likely to be looking for a shift in tone from the unions after Mr Ratcliffe was branded a “tyrant” earlier in the week.
The intervention of Unite general secretary Len McCluskey yesterday appeared to signal a more conciliatory position from the union as he talked about his “optimism” for the future of the plant. And having secured the union’s total capitulation in the dispute, the hope for staff must be that the firm will now revive its rescue package.
Failure to do would surely risk a unsavoury reputation as a company exhibiting the worst excesses of corporate vandalism.