It’s never a good time to lose your job, but Christmas is particularly hard.
The people of Invergordon and the surrounding area were hit hard 40 years ago when, after months of denial, British Aluminum shut down its foundry after barely a decade in production.
More than 900 people lost their jobs with an impact that still reverberates in the region today.
The nearby population of Alness swelled by several thousand people within months of the smelter’s opening, and six housing estates were quickly built in the town to accommodate incoming workers.
They couldn’t build the houses fast enough – workers slept on converted cruise liners moored off Invergordon, or in war shelters, or even on the beach.
The closure of the Invergordon smelter has caused unemployment to rise to 25%
It was Scotland’s first ‘planned village’ in the new industrial world, which was eventually expected to number 16,000 people, before the rug was pulled.
More than 600 indirect jobs were also lost and unemployment in the region soared to 25%.
The foundry was born out of an attempt by Harold Wilson’s government to reduce the UK’s trade deficit.
It was 1967, an era of cheap energy.
What frustrated the situation was the situation more than 200 miles away in Ayrshire at Hunterston B nuclear power station, which was supposed to supply the smelter at 1.5p a unit.
Delays in building the plant resulted in significant losses, which were subsidized from the public purse to the tune of £8 million.
The problem was that British Aluminum needed £14m to stay open.
Margaret Thatcher “was for the return” of the foundry’s closure
On 10 December 1981, government officials told Margaret Thatcher that an urgent decision needed to be made, to which she replied, “I don’t think we can close the Invergordon smelter at the moment.”
But a week later ‘the lady was for a spin’ with a minute from a Mrs Thatcher Cabinet meeting on December 18 saying the government ‘should not agree to Baco’s terms to keep Invergordon’ and the closure of the foundry was officially announced on December 31.
The government sought bidders to take over the plant, but interested parties were looking for a cheap energy deal better than the government’s offer of £20m for five years.
The bailout was finally scrapped on June 22, 1982 despite warnings to Mrs Thatcher from Scottish Secretary George Younger that the shutdown would crush Tory support in the north.
He told Ms Thatcher: ‘As I feared, this closure has caused an unprecedented degree of bitterness even in Scotland.
“The implications of this are serious for the Highlands economically; politically, they could also be disastrous for us.
It proved correct when Hamish Gray, Conservative MP for Ross and Cromarty, lost his seat the following year to Charles Kennedy.
A comment by former foundry worker Alistair MacKay of Killearnan put the debacle into perspective: “It didn’t matter who was in power at the time. It was the fact that they had to remove electricity from the national grid as a condition to open it. If they had their own power supply, it would still work.
Baco denied closure rumors
The local population has favored the Canadian giant Alcan, which prefers to build its own power plant to serve its smelters.
It must have been particularly infuriating for families facing financial disaster than Christmas 40 years ago, as British Aluminum denied the smelter would close until the last minute.
On Tuesday, December 22, the Press & Journal reported that Baco had denied closure rumors for the second time in four weeks.
A spokesperson for the company’s London headquarters said the yard was operating at 85 per cent capacity, more than any other major UK foundry, adding that there had been no layoffs at Invergordon, savings had been achieved through “natural waste”.
He attributed the rumors to “the generally depressed state of the aluminum industry”.
But the writing had been on the wall since the summer, when British Aluminum chief executive Leslie Charles warned employees of cutbacks due to the smelter’s steep first-half losses and lack of prospects. improvement for the second half.
“Difficult decisions would have to be made,” he warned.
Invergordon Cool and Quiet Fireplaces
A few years later, Bill MacAllister, editor of P&J’s Highland, looked at the “cold, silent chimneys of the ill-fated Invergordon foundry.”
He wrote: ‘Housing estates that didn’t exist a decade ago now have widespread headaches caused by queues and debts, the breakdown of marriages and families.
“The loss of this continuity of employment and income is still being felt in businesses and services in the region.”
This was compounded by massive job losses at the Highland Fabricators yard in Nigg only a few years later.
The number of social work cases skyrocketed as young families went from prosperity to poverty accompanied by deep emotional stress.
The East Ross Citizens’ Advice Bureau’s caseload also skyrocketed as families tried to negotiate debt repayment on mortgages, hire purchase and mail order.
Organizer Phil Durham then said: ‘We’re busy trying to persuade companies that they can’t get blood out of a stone and that reduced payments are better than nothing.
“Ironically, the people who tried to better themselves and therefore made the most commitments were hit the hardest as good, skilled jobs disappeared overnight.”
At that time, there were 2,500 unemployed men and women in the Invergordon-Alness-Tain area.
The repercussions continued.
The courts were busy with repossession and arrears.
Gasoline sales have plummeted.
Alcohol and drug abuse skyrocketed.
The children of the unemployed in turn risked unemployment if they did not leave.
Local councilor Eileen Wilson said the area was in agony and people felt left out after the spotlight during boom times.
Nowadays, in normal times, Invergordon still benefits from cargo handling and the docking of summer cruise liners in its port, with distillation, food processing and microelectronics also being sources of employment.
But that’s not enough to undo the damage and make up for the foundry’s brief glory days.
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[More than 900 jobs were lost in Christmas closure]