Leaders: Fracking moratorium | MOD Incompetence

The Scots Government's moratorium on fracking raises some serious questions about the future success of the Grangemouth industrial complex. Picture: TSPL
The Scots Government's moratorium on fracking raises some serious questions about the future success of the Grangemouth industrial complex. Picture: TSPL
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FRACKING moratorium threatens livelihoods

The Scottish Government’s moratorium on fracking raises some serious questions about the future success of the Grangemouth industrial complex – and questions too about the motive of ministers.

Ineos, the company that runs the giant plant on the banks of the Forth, brought the plant near to closure in 2013. But Grangemouth was ultimately saved and Ineos invested millions to prepare it for the revolution in unconventional gas and oil.

The company was last night being carefully measured in its reaction to the Scottish Government’s move. But given what is already known about its strategy of making Grangemouth a hub for the fracking industry, there may now be new question marks about the long-term future of the plant.

Let us not forget that Ineos is not afraid to play hardball when the situation demands it. Big ­companies will always try to leverage commercial advantage – as was graphically demonstrated during the 2013 dispute. Of course, the interests of big companies should not determine a country’s energy policy, nor should they trump environmental concerns about the potential consequences of this new ­technology.

But if the economic viability of Grangemouth is dependent on shale oil and gas, and Scotland is at best unsure about whether it wants any fracking to take place, then concerns about jobs and future economic benefit would seem to be legitimate.

The Scottish Government bent over backwards to keep Ineos at Grangemouth in 2013. Alex ­Salmond, when first minister, burnt the midnight oil with managers and union executives, as did Ed Davey, the UK Energy Secretary, and Alistair Carmichael, the Scottish Secretary.

Why, then, are Scottish ministers now making decisions that could cast doubt on its long-term future?

A clue may lie in the close proximity of a general election, and an increasingly bitter tussle between the SNP and Scottish Labour to be the dominant voice of the Scottish centre-left. A further political complication is the recent rise of the Greens, who may well attract votes from both Labour and the Nationalists.

Is Grangemouth – Scotland’s most strategically important industrial complex – really now just a political football in the run-up to 7 May?

It is hard to escape the conclusion that yesterday’s announcement by Fergus Ewing, the Scottish energy minister, was a simple attempt to trump a Labour position which itself was a misguided piece of political posturing.

Of course, political parties will seek advantage over one another as polling day looms. But do they have to do so with a reckless carelessness about the economic consequences – for jobs and livelihoods – of thousands of ordinary Scots?

Both the SNP and Labour need to back off, before they do serious economic damage.

Incompetence must be rooted out

THAT the Ministry of Defence is busy raking through its inventory of assets to find extra cash should come as no surprise.

Few branches of government have been as lax with taxpayers’ money. The litany of procurement scandals and catastrophic incompetence – Nimrod, the SA80 rifle, the aircraft carriers without aircraft, the Astute class submarines – speak of a culture of cavalier disregard for the poor suckers who end up footing the bill.

The defence ministry is now scrabbling around looking for cars, buildings and land to sell in a desperate attempt to balance the books. It is a rather pathetic sight – although any cognizance of pounds, shillings and pence must be welcomed.

Any cash recouped, however, will pale into insignificance when put alongside any one of the MoD’s botched projects or embarrassing white elephants.

Adding insult to injury comes the news that the collision warning systems currently being fitted to RAF Tornado aircraft do not actually work. Nevertheless, the fit-out programme continues.

The lack of such warning systems in some RAF fighters has been a running scandal, with relatives of men lost in mid-air collisions that could possibly have been avoided fighting a doughty battle against the intransigence of the MoD brass.

It seems mismanagement is systemic in the MoD on matters other than simple procurement.

Is it any wonder that confidence in its ability to manage the complex demands of a 21st century military are low?

The clear-out should not be looking at old aerodromes and staff cars. It needs to look at senior MoD decision-makers.