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It will take 'something big' to reverse Grangemouth closure

The Grangemouth oil refinery in east Scotland Photo: REUTERS/Russell Cheyne

They're back at the negotiating table in Grangemouth. Unite, the union which represents shop floor workers at the petrochemical plant which was closed yesterday, says it is prepared to make important concessions if Ineos, the owners, will reverse the decision.

This isn't an eleventh hour move, or even midnight. Talks to save Grangemouth have been going on for months and yesterday the owner's patience ran out. The impression I got then from management was that closure was all-but-final. "It would take something very big to change this," said one manager.

A worker leaves Grangemouth oil refinery in Falkirk following yesterday's closure Credit: David Cheskin/PA Wire

Politicians of all colours have been wading in. I suspect it is pressure from Edinburgh and London which has helped bring union and company back to talk, despite months of fruitless negotiations which never got to the substance of a deal.

But political sway can only go so far. Ineos is a huge company with dozens of plants in 11 countries. From an international perspective, Grangemouth looks troubled even before the current dispute is factored in. The raw materials from the North Sea it turns into the building blocks of countless plastic and rubber products are in decline and it needs hundreds of millions of pounds of investment to adapt to cheaper shale gas imports.

Newer, more efficient plants in the Middle East and Asia mean margins in the UK are falling - for refining, too. Any investor, whether it be Ineos or another, needs to be sure it can rely on workers to operate Grangemouth without interruption.

Talking to those workers here, there is shock at the decision to close. Two young men I spoke to had only joined the company a fortnight ago, leaving well-paid jobs elsewhere for the promise of a bright future at Grangemouth. That future depends on "something big" being agreed today.

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