EFFORTS to safeguard Teesside’s chemical industry were stepped up yesterday as both the Government and the debt-ridden owner of a threatened plant were warned of the potentially catastrophic effect of the sector’s demise.
Numerous companies in the sector’s supply chain have come together to write to the Government, stressing the necessity for both financial and skills support to be given during this turbulent time, which has seen several plants on Teesside announce their closures, and more left with question marks hanging over their futures.
Over 1,000 jobs have been, or are set to be, lost through the closures of the Invista and Elementis plants, the impending closures of Dow and Croda, the administration of Artenius, and the lingering doubts over the North Tees Petroplus refinery – a number which could increase ten-fold nationally, as their demise hits the supply chain.
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In a statement, the companies involved said that although emphasis now seems to be on emerging technologies, the traditional skills must not be lost.
It said: “Our main concern is that the job losses in our businesses will result in a reduction in the total engineering expertise and capacity in the region and the UK.
“This expertise must be retained through the downturn if we are not only to retain the remaining engineering-based industry in the region, but also to build the future technology industries that have begun to take root, such as renewable energy, bio-refineries, bio-technology and flexible electronics.”
Last night, it was also revealed that a delegation of workers from Wilton-based Artenius – put into administration by its parent company La Seda De Barcelona on Monday, with the immediate loss of 137 jobs, and a further 105 posts remaining uncertain – is planning to travel to Spain for the group’s shareholders’ meeting next Saturday.
Workers and unions at Artenius are furious that La Seda De Barcelona has allegedly “cut the North-East and its workers adrift” as it urgently tries to restructure the business in the wake of its £564m loss for last year. It has targeted its UK business as part of its efforts to stem the losses, despite the Wilton plant remaining profitable and demand for its plastic products staying high.
Bob Bolam, regional organiser for the Unite union, said: “Members are understandably worried about their jobs and disappointed at what has happened, so are discussing whether they can go to Barcelona for the shareholders’ meeting.
“It would be a good way of showing how strong feeling is among these loyal workers, and enable them to tell shareholders what is going on.”