Following the devastating news yesterday that Aylesford Newsprint Limited have made an application for the appointment of administrators, I thought it would be helpful to provide an update on discussions I have had since.
There are a number of issues arising out of the announcement and I shall try and address each one in turn.
The first relates to the future of ANL and what if anything can be done. I met with the Business Minister Matt Hancock last night. The department had not been given any prior notice of the decision to appoint administrators. It is illegal for a company to operate insolvent so ANL have gone through the right processes in terms of administration. Until the administrators are formally appointed it is difficult for me as a local MP or the Minister to fully understand the scale of the problem at ANL and what therefore can be done. It is unclear at this stage whether ANL will go into liquidation (full or partial), if it will be subject to takeover (full or partial) or what will happen to the assets (full or partial). Those discussions will occur but it may be 3 months before that is knows. It could be sooner but no-one knows at this stage.
In relation to affected staff, there are 300+ employees directly impacted by the announcement. It is a mixed skill base and having spoken to the Union rep and the Maidstone JobCentre manager we are confident that many will find alternative employment if it gets to that. The JobCentre have already set up a dedicated rapid response team for affected staff to offer advice on alternative employment and, if needed, benefits advice. I have offered to work with Unite to contact other mills in the county to see if they have vacancies/opportunities for those with specific skills.
Another issue relates to ANL’s provision of recycling for many of our local councils. Many will be familiar with the large Aylesford Newsprint banks in our car parks around the area. Having spoken to TMBC yesterday it is clear that while doorstep recycling can be diverted it is less clear what will happen to these banks. This is something councils will be working on together to provided a co-ordinated joined up solution and the Business Minister was aware of those conversations having taken place and welcomed the approach taken by our local councils.
Sadly this news came out of the blue for many. While people understood and recognised that the company has been operating in a challenging and internationally competitive market I don’t think anyone quite knew the scale of the problem. The newspaper industry has declined meaning less need for newsprint. In addition the price of paper has fallen, the Russians are flooding the continent with cheap paper, it is a highly taxed industry because of its energy consumption, and with on-going fluctuations in the Euro it is making it difficult for export/import market growth. In addition we, as resident recyclers (and I recognise I am about to make a sweeping statement) make recycling expensive but contaminating our waste. Comingling (the act of not separating your recycled products) unfortunately cross contaminates products and that makes it a more expensive process to wash and clean waste materials and turn into paper. This is a much wider issue that I have become a bit of a geek on and will continue to press the Government on in terms of its wider waste policy.
None of this context really helps the people most affected by the news yesterday. However they can be assured that the support structures are being put in place to help them if the worst happens and the plant closes. In the meantime I shall continue to liaise closely with the Business Minister, the unions, the local JobCentre and local councils on all of the issues mentioned above.