Grangemouth: Owner 'In Dark' As Buyer Sought
The owner of the Grangemouth refinery, currently shut down during a bitter dispute with staff, has told Sky News it did not know the Scottish Government was seeking a new buyer.
Ineos said it would announce on Wednesday morning whether it planned to keep the site open following a shareholder meeting - hours after Finance Secretary John Swinney confirmed talks with several parties.
The developments emerged after two-thirds of workers at the refinery refused to accept new terms and conditions as part of a survival plan for the site's future.
The Scottish Government's move was seen as a precaution - given the threat the shutdown poses to fuel supplies.
In an interview with BBC Radio Scotland Mr Swinney warned that the dispute between the current owner and the Unite union was heading for a stalemate and said "alternative options" were being considered.
"I don't think it will come as any surprise to anybody that the Scottish Government is looking at alternative options and there will be other players around the globe who will be interested in this particular plant.
"There are discussions...going on with other parties. The Scottish Government will continue to pursue those discussions because we think that is the right and the responsible thing to do."
Mr Swinney dismissed any idea of Government ownership of the site as "not appropriate".
"We are in a situation where the plant is operating successfully within the marketplace and it can work and operate more successfully in the market place," he said.
He urged Ineos to accept a trade union statement that there would be no strike action during negotiations at "face value".
"I can see no good reason for the plant lying idle today and I think it should be started as a matter of urgency," he said.
Ineos had set a deadline of 6pm on Monday for its employees to sign up to changes to pay, pensions and terms and conditions.
The company said hundreds of workers had accepted the proposals, but Unite maintained that, as the deadline passed, two out of three of its members had said no.
Last Thursday, Ineos sent a letter to all 1,350 workers at the site asking them to indicate their rejection or acceptance of the plan.
It said those who supported the survival plan would receive a transitional payment of up to £15,000.
The two sides have been embroiled in a bitter dispute for weeks, initially over the treatment of Unite convenor Stephen Deans, who was involved in the row over a selection of a Labour candidate in Falkirk, where he is chairman of the constituency party.
He was suspended, then reinstated, and is facing an internal investigation, which is due to report on Friday.
The dispute has since widened to the future of the entire site, with Ineos warning that it will close without fresh investment and changes to pensions and other terms and conditions.
The company said the plant, which has been shut down since last week because of the dispute, is losing £10m a month.
Ineos shareholders are expected to meet today to discuss the dispute and Unite released the text of a letter to the company's chairman Jim Ratcliffe ahead of the meeting, which accused him of standing in the way of an agreement.
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey also welcomed news of the buyer talks with the Scottish Government in a statement.
He said: Jim Ratcliffe's behaviour has exposed a dreadful frailty at the heart of our energy supply, which is that one man's power and wealth can hold our governments and citizens to ransom.
"Our politicians need now to step up. Our public utilities cannot be run by those indifferent to considerations of social responsibility.
"Unite calls upon politicians in Edinburgh and Westminster to support a new beginning for Grangemouth, free of the tyranny of one man's whims.
"If this means securing financial assistance - or even nationalisation - then this must be done. We can have no objections from Westminster when they have handed our nuclear energy future over to the state-owned Chinese and French nuclear industries."