Conservative MP Ian Liddell-Grainger says he will make it a top priority to get the best possible deal for 176 Watchet paper mill workers who face losing their jobs at the end of the year.
But, he has warned, realistically there is no chance that mill owner D S Smith will reverse its decision to close the loss-making plant, given the size of the investment necessary to re-equip it and comply with stringent new pollution controls.
Mr Liddell-Grainger, Conservative member for Bridgwater and West Somerset, was speaking after meeting mill managers with West Somerset District Council leader Anthony Trollope-Bellew.
Formal consultations over redundancies are due to start next week but with investment of at least £20 million needed to modernise the plant – and no prospective buyer in sight - it seems almost inevitable that 265 years of paper-making in Watchet will end at Christmas.
D S Smith says staff will be entitled to enhanced redundancy terms, will be given help with retraining, and where possible will be offered alternative jobs at its other sites.
And, said Mr Liddell-Grainger, “Securing the best possible outcome for the workforce has to be where we direct all our energies at the moment. We may not be able to influence the future of the mill but we can make a difference to the future of the staff.
“The council and I will be having further meetings with D S Smith and will be meeting Watchet town council, and we have both offered to help in whatever way we can to mitigate the impact of the closure.
“There is no doubt that it is going to be a very sad day for Watchet when the mill closes: our responsibility is to do our best to make sure the workforce is looked after and that the local community is helped to respond to the inevitable negative effect this will have on the town’s economy.”