Scottish Government must fund Longannet Action Plan

The closure of Longannet last Thursday 24 March 2016 marked another milestone in the de-industrialisation of Scotland. In early 2015 rumours of the potential closure of Longannet were circulating and at that time Labour called on the Scottish Government to intervene and convene an early task force to begin to look at the issues that would emerge as a result of the closure of the plant. Labour was accused at that time by opposition representatives of scaremongering, being negative and talking down Fife. Now it has closed, those same representatives have become one of the main barriers to securing Scottish Government funding for Longannet.  They could use their influence – but instead they will not criticise the Scottish Government – instead they have disowned Fife and in particular the South West area communities. Labour also said at that time that some really big questions needed answered in relation to not just the power station but also the issues and concerns around fracking and underground coal gasification. But more of that later. It was not until August that consensus was reached with the Scottish Government on the need to form a Task Force and to take a proactive, rather than a reactive approach to the expected closure of the site. What became evident very quickly was the wide ranging and complex issues that would begin to emerge with the closure of Longannet. Not just in terms of job losses within the plant – but also the wider job losses in the supply chain reaching all the way through to Glasgow and Hunterston. But beyond the short and immediate impact of job losses the medium and long term implications for the surrounding communities were clearly articulated by all the representatives sitting round the table the day of that first formal task force meeting. Staying close to home in Fife the impact on Muir Dean would see the cessation of coaling earlier than planned at the site. Fortunately there is a bond in place to support the restoration of the site, but the intention of Hargreaves had been to continue coaling which would assist with an enhanced restoration scheme.  Work was already well underway with this, but the coaling has stopped and the restoration work is now moving forward funded by the Bond At that first meeting the Minister confirmed that the reason for a task force is as a response to extraordinary events that requires an extraordinary response. That situation was true when Tullis Russell unexpectedly and sadly announced its closure and when John Swinney was the Minster assigned to that Task Force, there was no hesitation in providing funding to ensure that not only the immediate issues could be dealt with but also the medium to long term issues of addressing what would need to be done for the Mid Fife area.  £6M was put on the table. No ifs.  No buts.  An appropriate response to an extra ordinary event - the loss of a long standing family business at the heart of a community. Mr Swinney at that time said: "We are making an immediate and initial financial investment of £6m to support the work of the Fife taskforce. This money will provide additional support for skills development, training and support for local businesses."We will work with Fife Council to ensure these additional resources complement existing activity and support economic growth in this part of Fife." When Halls of Broxburn announced its closure in 2012 John Swinney was again the Minister assigned to first of all try and save the plant, and then to head up its Task Force. An appropriate response to an extraordinary event.  The closure of a long standing business at the heart of the community.  Plans were drawn up to address the short medium and long term impacts of this closure.  Around £12M of funding was provided and other funding mechanisms would be used with this money to leverage in other funding of around £29M.  No ifs.  No buts.  An appropriate response to an extra ordinary event. But somehow that approach does not apply to Longannet. It would appear that the closure of Longannet does not meet the yard stick of being an extraordinary event. No matter that Longannet has been at the heart of communities across West Fife, Clackmannshire and Falkirk as a key employer since its construction in the 1960s and is initial operation in the 1970s. No matter that it has been a valued economic generator of high quality jobs paying high quality wages which its employees spent in local shops, bars and restaurants and within their local communities – and that this would now stop. No matter that the substantial numbers of contractors and suppliers who visited or worked at the site also support those local businesses – and that this would now stop. No matter the impact on coaling and employees employed there – no matter the impact on other supply chain companies and the laying off of staff – it would seem the loss of 1,000 jobs is not such an extraordinary event and in this case does not merit any extraordinary response. Because despite the months of planning, preparation and scoping of short medium and long term actions via the Task Force when it came to providing the seed corn money of £9M that this plan was costed at in order to take the action plan forward there was no money. Perhaps we just had the wrong Minister..... But despite the refusal to fund this action plan we cannot believe that the Scottish Government would turn its back on the communities who are left with a site that now requires significant decommissioning and restoration and that there is no legacy of support to help regenerate the area when it has already been recognised that this is an extra ordinary event. That despite the fact that the medium and long term case has been illustrated and widely accepted through the work of the Task Force and its various members, that the answer at the crunch point was NO. If it was indeed the plan from the outset that there was to be no money for the Longannet Task Force then surely it was incumbent on the Minister to state that intention up front. But NO. Instead we have had the situation where a Task Force has met for months supported by a Senior Scottish Government Minister who encouraged everyone to push forward and plan actions that in reality have little economic viability without additional government investment. The funding channels quoted at yesterday’s council by the SNP are of course there – but they typically require seed corn funding (as the case in West Lothian) and there is of course no guarantee that any of these external funding bodies will support any bid that might be made. This approach and treatment of Longannet communities is simply unacceptable and not the right thing to do. Unless of course the reason that there is no money for the Longannet Task Force is because there is simply another option being considered for the use of the site? While the current moratorium on fracking and UCG is in place, there is now a complete lack of clarity by the Scottish Government on their long term intentions regarding UCG and Fracking. Given their senior representatives reported meetings and activities with INEOS and combined with this sudden shyness on saying no to fracking or UCG, it may not be unreasonable to conclude that a reason that Longannet is getting no money now is because the Scottish Government plan to use the site for something else.... and it may not be unreasonable to conclude that the something else might include fracking and UCG activity. Time will tell. Meanwhile – we continue to press the case for Longannet just as we have done from the outset – despite the naysayers. The Scottish Government should now do the decent thing and come forward with the money that the communities of Fife, Clackmannan and Falkirk deserve. No ifs.  No buts. At yesterday’s full Council meeting there was an opportunity for a unified voice to be made in standing up for Fife and the Longannet communities. Instead the SNP and their 3 South West Councillors all voted against supporting Fife and the West Fife communities by rejecting the call for the Longannet Task Force to be funded by the Scottish Government. By Lesley Laird Deputy Leader of Fife Council  

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