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If the Lochaber smelter at Fort William was to be nationalised, as local Scottish Labour Party candidate John Erskine is urging, then the local community would be well placed to take over ownership of the 114,000 acres of land that went with its original purchase from Rio Tinto by GFG Alliance.
The latter company, run by metals tycoon Sanjeev Gupta, is currently embroiled in controversy after the collapse of its main financial backer, Greensill Capital.
Greensill provided Mr Gupta with funding to acquire often under performing assets from the likes of Rio Tinto.
Mr Erskine, Scottish Labour Candidate for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch for the Scottish parliamentary elections in May, said the Lochaber smelter is vital to the Highlands and should be at the heart of any green economic recovery to the region as the country emerges from the Covid-19 pandemic.
‘Ensuring the future of strategic infrastructure sites, such as the smelter, is absolutely crucial to our economic recovery and should play a role in a new green industrial strategy for Scotland,’ he said.
‘Whilst I hope that the sites owners are able to secure refinancing, the Scottish Government needs to work closely with the UK Government to ensure that whatever happens, jobs and the smelter site is secured.
‘We cannot afford to let these jobs go. Government has a responsibility to make sure it doesn’t happen, and the Scottish Government and Finance Secretary Kate Forbes, need to be prepared to nationalise the Alvance Smelter site in Lochaber if necessary, to secure local jobs and the long-term future of the site.’
Asked if he thought nationalising the smelter was the way forward, John Hutchison, chairman of the East Lochaber and Laggan Community Trust which had originally wanted to enact a community buy out of the land at the time of the Rio Tinto sale,
said his view was that important major strategic assets should be in public ownership.
Mr Hutchison added: ‘Personally, I believe that strategic assets like harbours, airports and railways should be in public ownership, probably steel too.
‘If the smelter was to be nationalised, the Community Trust would be in a good, complementary position, to own and manage the land.’