Leaders: Onus on Ratcliffe to endorse union agreement

Grangemouth oil and petrochemical refinery. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Grangemouth oil and petrochemical refinery. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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AFTER a frantic 48 hours of meetings and phone calls between unions, management and senior politicians in Edinburgh and Westminster, the Ineos plant at Grangemouth now has a flicker of hope where previously a devastating closure seemed unavoidable.

Union representatives met with the Ineos management yesterday and have indicated their acceptance of a company survival plan “warts and all”.

Both Scottish Finance Secretary John Swinney and Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael spoke to Ineos yesterday, with both men expressing some hope for the future of the plant.

A striking feature of the crisis is that, with 800 jobs and a large swathe of Scotland’s economy at risk, Holyrood and Westminster have put aside their differences to help find a solution to a stand-off that posed the gravest threat to the heartland of Scotland’s economy. Matters now await the signing by union representatives of legal agreements drawn up by the company and the final approval by Ineos shareholders.

While these are no more than formalities and no assurance can be given as to the final outcome, very considerable distance has been travelled since Monday – much of it by the Unite union which had encouraged the plant’s employees to reject the survival plan in a formal company ballot. Faced with imminent closure, the union’s opposition has very quickly evaporated and it has now agreed to accept the Ineos package, together with a “no strike” pledge and pay freeze.

There would seem no good reason why the company’s plans to secure the future of Grangemouth cannot now go ahead. The unions are on board, financial assurances and a government loan facility are in place. A decision to proceed with closure now would put enormous pressure on Ineos to justify its decision, triggering as it would thousands of lay-offs both within the plant and across a wide range of suppliers. More widely it would deliver a devastating body blow to business confidence across Scotland.

This has been a brutally steep learning curve about the precarious state of Ineos’ financial health and the global pressures bearing down on the plant. Such wisdom has been acquired the hard way, with a humiliating capitulation by the Unite union. Westminster and Holyrood have also been left in no doubt of the consequences were support not forthcoming. It is heartening to have seen both governments co-operating when it crucially mattered, and that they have refrained from seeking to extract political advantage – assuming any such advantage was possible given the enormous implications of failure.

The hope now is that the plant’s major shareholder Jim Ratcliffe will endorse union acceptance of the survival plan. There will be plenty of time for recriminations in days to come. But for now the focus must remain on ensuring that a deal to secure the future of the plant is signed, sealed – and delivered.

Scotland must be in digital fast lane

In THE era of superfast broadband and instant connectivity, few experiences are more frustrating than waiting helplessly in front of a computer screen waiting for documents to load and files to open. But that is a regular feature of life for tens of thousands in Scotland – and the unavoidable fate of those seeking to build a rural business.

According to an infrastructure report from industry regulator Ofcom, while superfast broadband is now available to almost three quarters of UK homes, only 52 per cent of properties in Scotland are covered. And only nine per cent of rural homes north of the Border have access to the service compared to 25 per cent across the whole of Britain.

Such has been the explosive growth of mass internet use and in digital business in particular that internet connectivity has become as vital a part of our economic infrastructure as well-maintained roads and railways. Abandonment of such a large proportion of Scotland’s population to poor roads and slow rail services would be unthinkable.

The position in rural Scotland is especially unsatisfactory, putting business in such areas at a considerable disadvantage and undermining the Scottish government’s ambitions to improve business expansion and investment in non-urban areas. Tourism, textiles and food and drink exports are critical parts of our economic mix.

This needs to be urgently addressed by the Holyrood administration and priority given to ensuring Scotland has an equivalent coverage of superfast broadband as the rest of the UK. The digital economy is providing a critical spur to economic recovery. Scottish businessesand consumers should not be left behind.