The government has said that it will not apply to the EU for permission to use state funds to keep Coryton refinery open whilst administrators seek a buyer for the business. Closure could see 850 jobs lost on site with, according to an impact assessment carried out for Thurrock council the local economy taking a hit of up to £170 million.
Unions have called for ministers to go to the site and explain to workers why their jobs have been sacrificed on the altar of ‘austerity.’ Len Mc Luskey, general secretary of UNITE; the union representing workers at Coryton said the response from the government has been ‘simply not good enough.’
This week he told the BBC that Chancellor George Osborne had sanctioned an injection of £100 million into the banking system but that ‘a similar request from UNITE for state aid to tide Coryton over until a viable buyer is found to take over the oil refinery is dismissed by ministers out of hand.’ Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs also support using state funding to keep the site open whilst a buyer is sought; Bob Russell (Lib Dem) tabled a motion to that effect in the commons on Monday.
The Department for Energy and Climate Change cite overcapacity in the refining industry and declining demand for petrol as reasons for not taking action to keep the site open. A spokesman told the BBC that if the ‘government did step in to help Coryton, this would be a short term fix and it could lead to job losses at other refineries;’ he then added that this was a ‘very difficult decision and it is regrettable that people may lost their jobs.’
On Monday a hundred workers from Coryton protested against the closure in Curringham town centre, there was also a smaller demonstration outside the Royal Courts of Justice on Thursday as David Cameron gave evidence to the Leveson inquiry. Neither event was covered more than cursorily by a media that managed to find space instead for Danny Boyle’s fatuous plans for the Olympic opening ceremony and tittle-tattle culled from the PM’s text messages to Rebekah Brooks.
The failure by this government to support the workers at Coryton refinery and their families is a shaming betrayal and a shocking reminder of their complacency and lack of vision.
Len Mc Luskey, an old school trades unionist in the best possible way, is quite correct to highlight the government’s willingness to sign off huge sums of taxpayers money to be pumped into the banks in return for promises to lend to small businesses that have been made with their fingers crosses just like all the other ones were. Meanwhile manufacturing and the industries that support it are left to wither on the vine; the ‘march of the makers’ George Osborne prattled about not so long ago has, once again, been overtaken by the stampede of the bankers to the bonus trough.
Not supporting Coryton until a buyer has been found for the site is economically short sighted, demand may be low now and there may be an excess capacity for refining; but all recessions come to an end, even this one. When it does demand will rise again, every bit of the currently excess refining capacity will be sorely needed, only thanks to a gang of cabinet ministers who have never had a job outside of politics it will no longer be there and businesses will have to have their oil pumped in from abroad. Creating a drain on the economy and a potential security hazard in one fell swoop, way to go team Oxbridge.
What really offends though is the tone used by the Department of Energy and Climate Change, things like impending unemployment are only ever described as ‘regrettable’ by people who themselves have little cause for regret. It is a word drawn straight from the lexicon of the privileged, the well connected; the people for whom a crisis is something to observe from afar with the detached interest of a scientist watching bacteria struggle for survival in a Petri dish.
For the workers at Coryton, their families and the surrounding community the closure of a major employer isn’t an abstraction; it’s a deadly threat to their livelihoods. Those who have transferable skills will leave the area in search of work, those who don’t will be trapped in lives that are smaller and less secure because politicians who have never made a really tough choice, like whether to buy food or clothes for their kids, in their whole sorry lives cling to the doctrine of ‘austerity’.
In the place of anything like a coherent vision of what sort of country Britain is going to be when the economic storm has passed we are treated to the ugly spectacle of Iain Duncan Smith seeking to change the way poverty levels are calculated to try and prove that it is all the fault of the poor for not trying hard enough. That or silly Michael Gove prattling about the need to teach children to recite poetry by heart even though we are fast approaching a time when their parents can’t afford to send them to school with shoes on their feet.
The whole governing class has lost touch with reality, not because its members are stupid, most are the product of expensive educations, but because they find it distasteful and would prefer to live in a Britain that resembles the silly pastoral fantasy dreamed up for the Olympics by the man who made Trainspotting. Anyone with an ounce of wit should feel angry at the injustice being inflicted on the workers at Coryton and elsewhere and more than a little frightened for the future.