Workers at an Ineos factory in Teesside were left fearing for their jobs this morning, after the chemicals giant said it was consulting on shutting it down.
The future of the plant at Seal Sands, which employs more than 220 people, hangs in the balance after “decades of under investment”.
Ineos, which is Britain’s biggest private company, said not all jobs would be lost if it goes ahead with the plan, because of other activities at the site.
The firm said it had poured £180m into the factory over the decade it has owned it.
But despite this, the site needs another £180m just to meet its environmental standards, it added.
Ineos is owned by tycoon Sir Jim Ratcliffe, Britain’s third-richest man, who has a personal fortune of £18bn, according to the Times’ rich list.
The Ineos factory makes acrylonitrile, an important material in making acrylic clothes.
However, making the compound involves handling “significant quantities of hazardous material,” said chief executive Paul Overment.
As a result, he said the firm could not guarantee workers would be safe without investing millions in the plant.
Trade union Unite has demanded an urgent meeting with senior management at the Ineos factory.
Unite regional officer Tan Rashid said the announcement was “a serious blow to the manufacturing economy of the north east”.
“It is painful news for the workforce and their families, and Unite is calling for urgent talks with Ineos management to explore all options to keep the plant operating as a going concern.
“The region can ill-afford to lose these highly skilled jobs – and we will be giving maximum support to our members in the days and weeks ahead during this stressful time.”
‘With a heavy heart’
Overment added: “After considering many options, we feel that we must now consult with employees on the potential closure of the plant.
“We do so with a heavy heart but there is no escaping the fact that decades of underinvestment on the site have led us to this point.
“Manufacturing assets need constant renewal if they are to survive.
“The last 10 years have proven that it is almost impossible to play catch-up and the lesson for us and other UK manufacturers is that constant reinvestment is vital for long-term prosperity.”