Leaders: Grangemouth problem requires co-operation

A Unite placard lies in a puddle outside Grangemouth refinery. Picture: Ian Rutherford
A Unite placard lies in a puddle outside Grangemouth refinery. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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Battling over the future of Ineos’ Grangemouth refinery now switches from the workforce at the site to London where the companies’ shareholders will decide what to do.

By last night, the companies had secured acceptance of the less favourable terms and conditions under which it is willing to employ people from about half of the workforce. Is it enough to ensure it continues?

The immediate fear is that since Jim Ratcliffe, the billionaire and somewhat secretive founder of Ineos, owns 75 per cent of the company and is well known for being a ruthless cost-cutter (which is why he is a billionaire), that he will simply go ahead and close it. Billionaires do not run businesses as loss-making job-providing charities and since Grangemouth is said by Ineos to be losing £10 million a month, he may just decide to cut his losses.

Actually, it is a bit more complex than that. There are two main businesses at Grangemouth. One refines crude oil to produce petrol for cars and trucks; the other is a petro-chemical ­business using some crude oil products and natural gas to make chemicals. The axe hangs rather more heavily over the chemicals business than over the refinery and it is in the chemicals business where most of the work is.

An important shareholder in the refinery, but not the ­petro-chemicals plant, is ­Petrochina which bought into it to learn expertise which it can deploy in its own growing oil industry. Ineos did not agree to that sale for altruistic reasons – it needed the capital for investment that Petrochina could bring. So it is possible that the refinery could stay open but the petro- chemicals plant could close.

That, however would be dreadful, not just for Grangemouth and the surrounding Forth Valley, but for the Scottish economy. Many thousands more jobs in supplying materials and services to Grangemouth and in the chemicals industry which uses petro-chemical products from Grangemouth are dependent on the whole complex staying open.

The prospects of another company buying the petro-chemicals business range from slim to nil. Ineos has become one of the world’s biggest chemical companies by buying inefficient loss-making plant and making them profitable. So bad are the industrial relations at Grangemouth, and so competitive is the industry which, globally, has too much capacity for existing demand, that it is highly improbable any other company would think it likely it could turn it round.

Political intervention at this late stage could help, but it is incumbent on the Scottish and UK governments to work together and not to engage in any point-scoring. If this is no positive outcome to this sorry story, the public will view any politician ­attempting to pin blame on ­another with as much contempt as the apparently blameworthy. Alex Salmond and Alistair Carmichael must put all differences aside and act and speak as one.

Young minds thrive on exercise

Fit bodies mean fit minds. This old saying seems to have been forgotten in many parental and teaching minds as modern pressures to achieve ­academic excellence have grown. It’s time to re-learn it because ­recent research has shown that it is a basic truth.

Researchers from Strathclyde and Dundee universities in collaboration with teams from Bristol and Georgia in the USA examined the exercise and schooling records of 5,000 children, comparing how much exercising they did at the age of 11 with their academic performances in English, maths, and science at the ages of 11, 13, 15, and 16.

They found that the more exercise children had taken at age 11, the better they did in all three subjects. Rather intriguingly, girls who exercised more were found to have done particularly better in science subjects.

The danger in this kind of ­research is that cause and effect can be misunderstood. It may be that children who are more intellectually inquiring are also more prone to enjoy exercise. More ­research to eliminate this kind of misunderstanding is planned, but in the meantime it does seem to make sense that children who are untroubled by weight problems and are physically active are more likely to be mentally active.

The Scottish Government has set targets for the amount of physical activity school pupils should be undertaking and while most are meeting them, some are not. In any case, this study ­indicates it is daily exercise rather than one or two big activity ­periods a week which matters.

More PE and playtime ­activity, and less time sitting at desks might, odd though it sounds, be the best way to improve exam results.