A deal to save and expand the UK’s last aluminium smelter could create 2,000 jobs in the Highlands and boost the economy by £1billion.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will today herald a “historic day” for the region and an “exciting new chapter” for Scottish manufacturing as the £330million sale of Rio Tinto’s Alcan plant is officially completed.
She will travel to Fort William as the new owners unveil ambitious plans to create 300 extra jobs by making a further £120million investment in equipment and establishing an aluminium wheel manufacturing facility at the site.
The move – which would almost triple the directly-employed workforce at the Lochaber site – was hailed last night as a “shot in the arm” for Highland industry.
Almost a year of uncertainty over the future of the smelter was ended last month when it was announced that Liberty House and SIMEC – both members of the GFG Alliance – would buy the facility from Rio Tinto.
The move secured the future 170 directly-employed employees at the site, and about 400 workers in supply chains.
But the new owners now say their proposed expansion and diversification into the making wheels for the automotive industry – plans which were revealed by the Press and Journal last week – can help bring up to 2,000 direct and supply-chain jobs to the Highlands.
They also believe the proposals could be worth about £1billion to the local economy over the next decade.
Ms Sturgeon said: “This is a historic day for the UK’s last remaining aluminium smelter here in Lochaber.
“GFG Alliance’s buyout of the complex will protect 170 existing jobs and with ambitious plans to invest in the site, expand operations and add value, we look forward to hundreds of new jobs being created in the coming years.
“Today is the start of an exciting new chapter in Scotland’s manufacturing story and the Scottish Government and its agencies will keep working with Sanjeev Gupta and the GFG Alliance to help them realise their enterprising vision for Lochaber.”
The deal includes the hydro-electric station and aluminium smelter at Fort William, the neighbouring hydro-plant at Kinlochleven and more than 100,000 acres of estate land which hosts the water catchment area, including the foothills of Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest mountain.
Liberty – under the banner “Liberty British Aluminium” – will operate the smelter and new engineering and downstream manufacturing facility, while sister firm SIMEC will operate the hydro plants.
Sanjeev Gupta, executive chairman of Liberty House Group and of the GFG Alliance strategic board, said: “We hope this day will come to be recognised as the start of a bright new future for Highland industry.
“It puts Lochaber right at the heart of our vision for sustainable and integrated local production that can revitalise British manufacturing.”