I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests, as I am a member of Unite the Union and the GMB.
To ask the Scottish Government, further to Greensill Capital entering administration, what action it is taking to mitigate the risks to jobs, vital industries and public finances in Scotland.
I, too, welcome the Presiding Officer to her role.
On 24 March, Fergus Ewing, the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Tourism, gave a statement to Parliament that outlined the potential impacts on Scottish businesses of Greensill Capital (UK) Ltd entering administration. His statement focused on the potential impacts to the Lochaber aluminium smelter and the Dalzell steelworks. The Scottish Government’s priority is to support Scotland’s steel and aluminium sectors and the highly skilled jobs that they provide.
A ministerial task group and Scottish Government officials have been active throughout the election period, engaging with Liberty Steel local management at the Lochaber smelter, union representatives from the STUC and the UK Government. In April, the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Tourism met MSPs and MPs from across the parties to provide an update on the GFG Alliance situation. We will continue to update parties across the Parliament.
When the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Tourism gave his update to Parliament, he gave the impression that the GFG Alliance needed only to re-finance. However, with the reported collapse of rescue deal talks, the situation is increasingly worrying for workers and local communities such as those in Clydebridge and Dalzell, in my parliamentary region. At least 340 jobs are at risk in Scotland, and the Scottish Government deals that promised more jobs in the future are now looking doubtful.
We welcome the on-going engagement. Will the cabinet secretary explain what contingency plans are in place to protect those vital jobs and industries? If GFG Alliance fails to re-finance, will the Government bring the Lochaber smelter into public ownership?
As Monica Lennon will be aware and should understand—it will have been relayed to her at the time—re-financing is a sensitive commercial matter for the GFG Alliance. We must be careful not to prejudice or undermine that process.
Monica Lennon alluded to the fact that it is a potentially changing situation. The ministerial task group of two ministers and two cabinet secretaries has met regularly to ensure that we have clarity and understand the complexity of the situation. Our current plan is not to take any of the sites into public ownership. However, as we did when we intervened to save the sites previously, we will look at all options as situations present themselves.
We are now monitoring the situation, and, as Monica Lennon is aware, we are keeping in close contact with the management, workforce and unions at both sites. They relayed to us—as they will have relayed to her—that it is important that we have confidence in the sites, recognise the skills in the sites and recognise the strategic assets that the sites represent.
Presiding Officer, I welcome you to your role.
The cabinet secretary talked about the skills of the workforce at Dalzell and Clydebridge. As someone who served on the previous steel task force, I recognise that it is the workforce’s skill and dedication that have secured production over the past five years. Given the collegiate nature of the previous steel task force, how can elected members engage with the Government in support of its efforts? How will the Government keep us informed of any developments in a timeous manner?
Clare Adamson, who is the local constituency member, is right to emphasise the need to work collaboratively and collegiately across the chamber. That is what we have been doing and will continue to do. It is important to recognise that we have had assurances that the group’s aluminium and steel operations in Scotland are performing well and benefiting from strong order books and rising prices. Together with the experience and skill of the workforce, to which Clare Adamson referred, those are important foundations on which we can build as we chart a way forward when the situation becomes clearer.
Keeping members informed is really important, which is why my colleague Fergus Ewing has done that in recent weeks. We have committed to keeping members informed—indeed, at our meeting just two days ago, we discussed when might be the appropriate point to do so again. I welcome Clare Adamson back to her capacity as a constituency member, but we recognise that there are many new members from different parties, and it is important that they, too, are briefed. We will take an early opportunity to do that.
As the Parliament would expect, we have taken a series of securities over the assets of the GFG Alliance at Lochaber. We have not published details of that because, as members will understand, there are confidential commercial issues involved. The full details of the total exposure and the securities were shared with the Scottish Parliament’s Finance and Constitution Committee in 2016, when it approved the guarantee. We recently updated the committee with GFG’s business plans, and that correspondence is publicly available.
I, too, welcome you to your position, Presiding Officer.
At the beginning of April, I wrote to the Auditor General, asking him to look at the matters that we are discussing, and he confirmed that, in the most recent audit of the Scottish Government’s consolidated accounts, he had expressed concern about the lack of a clear framework regarding the Scottish Government’s interventions in private companies. Does the cabinet secretary share that concern, and what action has the Scottish Government taken to correct that since that audit was provided, in December 2020?
The member might be aware that the director general of the economy directorate has given evidence—I think that it was to the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee, but I am happy to correct that if that is not the case—setting out how the Scottish Government would approach such situations in the future. The advice from that discussion and from the Auditor General has been taken on board, and I have ensured that, in the operation of the ministerial task force to date, we have been following the recommended principles and practice, which were set out by the director general in her evidence.