Ministers should get in their government limousines, and go and face the Coryton workers and tell them why there is no state aid available to tide the plant over, Unite the union has said.

Unite threw down the challenge to Ed Davey, the energy and climate change secretary, and his ministers to go to the Essex oil refinery and explain to the 850 workers why no state aid is forthcoming, even in the short-term.

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “Today we have seen the clearest evidence possible of the double standards operated by this economically disreputable coalition. Last night, the chancellor George Osborne pledged to pump in at least £100bn into the banking system to boost lending – which bankers should be doing anyway as that’s their job – in an attempt to build a financial firewall against the situation in Greece.

“Yet, a similar request from Unite for state aid in the short-term to tide over Coryton until a viable buyer is found to take over the oil refinery is dismissed by ministers out-of-hand. This is simply not good enough – Ed Davey and his ministerial team should have the courage to get in their limos and drive to Coryton to tell the workers why they have to lose their jobs, while bankers in the City scoop up outrageous and undeserved bonuses.

“Thurrock council has commissioned an economic assessment saying that the local economy could be hit to the tune of more than £100m. Surely it makes more economic sense to provide state aid to tide over Coryton in the short-term until a buyer is found to take over the plant as a going concern. We understand that ministers are already talking to possible purchasers.

“Osborne will cite that propping up the banks is in the national interest – but so is ensuring the security of oil supplies without which the lights would go off very quickly across Britain. To date, the banks have sat on every penny this country has given them, but we know that short-term help for Coryton would keep thousands of people off the dole queue, in work and a community alive.

“The people of Essex are suffering because the chancellor does not see their need to be as pressing as that of his friends in the City. The hypocrisy of this government’s mantra: ‘We are all in this together’ is breathtaking.”

Thurrock council’s economic impact assessment on the closure or change of use of the site indicated the loss of £30m in wages, £26m in contractor costs, £6m in locally sourced materials, as well as £40m spent on chemicals and utilities, plus £5m in business rates.

A public meeting has been called at the Pitsea Leisure Centre, Northlands Pavement, Basildon, Essex, SS13 3DU for 7.30pm today to rally support to keep the refinery open.

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