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The owners of the UK’s last aluminium smelter, located on the outskirts of Fort William, say the facility’s strong earnings performance last year has provided a strong basis for their plans to nearly double its output from the planned new aluminium recycling and billet casting plant.
The assurances came in the wake of concerns triggered by smelter owner GFG Alliance’s delay in filing its accounts for its businesses in the Highlands.
GFG Alliance faces paying fines for late accounts for Alvance British Aluminium – which runs the smelter – and Simec Lochaber Hydropower.
Asked to comment, a GFG Alliance spokesperson told us: ‘The submission of some GFG Alliance accounts has been delayed due to the disruption caused by Greensill Capital’s collapse.
‘We are in contact with Companies House and are now finalising these accounts which will be filed in due course.’
But Lib Dems economy spokesman Willie Rennie has been reported this week as saying the inability to complete the accounts could be a ‘warning sign’ and hopes this did not signal a risk to the smelter and associated jobs.
Asked about the concerns, GFG Alliance told the Lochaber Times: ‘Our Lochaber smelter’s strong earnings performance last year provides a good platform for GFG’s plans to nearly double its capacity with a new recycling and billet casting plant.
‘This will drive further spend in the local and national economy, and enable us to target rising demand for Lochaber’s aluminium, which is among the greenest on the international market.
‘We are pressing on with front end design and engineering work and working with the local Chamber of Commerce to overcome a housing shortage so we can develop local talent for our skilled, long-term jobs.’
Commenting, Highlands and Islands MSP and Shadow Business Minister Jamie Halcro Johnston said that given the Scottish Government’s financial commitment to the smelter it was vital that they closely monitor the situation and any potential impact on the taxpayer.
The commitment Mr Halcro Johnston was referring to is the £586M guarantee given by the Scottish Government – which has not been called upon – to GFG Alliance boss, Sanjeev Gupta, when the metals tycoon bought the smelter.
The 25-year guarantee covers a portion of the electrical power purchase obligations of the smelter in order to secure the survival of the plant and to underpin additional investment.
Mr Halcro Johnston told us this week: ‘The smelter is of real importance to the Lochaber economy, and ministers also owe a duty of care to the workforce and those whose livelihoods depend on the facility.
‘It feels increasingly that information is being drip-fed, and there continues to be a worrying lack of transparency over how both GFG and the Scottish Government are conducting themselves.’
In a wider statement, GFG Alliance’s spokesperson said its Scottish steel, aluminium and hydro power operations demonstrate its vision of uniting industrial growth, renewable energy and sustainable development.
And the spokesperson added: ‘Despite uncertainty over Brexit and disruption from Covid-19 we’ve invested to improve productivity, upgrade existing facilities and safeguard jobs that would otherwise have been lost.
‘Helped by a robust outlook for steel and aluminium, we’re working steadily to refinance the group following our lender Greensill Capital’s collapse last year.
‘And we’re continuing to work closely with the Scottish Government, whose support for these enterprises has protected vital Scottish jobs at a critical time.’