Scottish ministers claim it is 'not in public interest' to release independent valuation of Lochaber assets

Ministers have refused to back up claims made in the media the value of the Lochaber smelter is worth more than the taxpayer liability connected to the deal.

Officials at the Scottish Government have instead claimed releasing an independent valuation of the assets at Lochaber, which include the smelter and the associated hydroplant, is not in the public interest.

Ministers have repeatedly claimed the Government’s existing liability as part of the deal, which helped save the smelter and sits at around £280 million, down from the initial £586m, is less than the value of the securities held by the Government. The Government could call on the guarantee and effectively nationalise both the smelter and hydroplant.

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The collapse of GFG Alliance's main funder Greensill Capital last year has led to ongoing concerns about the future of the conglomerate's businesses. The conglomerate is subject to an ongoing Serious Fraud Office investigation.

Critics said the SNP were showing “characteristic secretiveness and evasion” and called for the valuation to made available for public scrutiny. In response to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, officials claimed releasing the independent valuation would prejudice commercial interests, release legal advice into the public domain, and would constitute an actionable breach of confidence.

Officials claimed the release of the specific valuation would “negatively impact the business and potentially damage negotiations, day-to-day operations and other activity”. In the past, officials have pointed to valuations of the smelter published by GFG Alliance in annual accounts.

The FOI response added: “Whilst I recognise that there would be some public interest in release of the information in terms of providing greater openness, I consider that this is outweighed by the public interest in ensuring that private sector partners can share commercially sensitive information with Government with confidence that such information will be handled with due sensitivity.”

No up-to-date, audited and publicly available valuation of the assets has been published. Auditors of several GFG Alliance companies, including Alvance British Aluminium at Lochaber and Liberty Steel Dalzell, resigned due to a lack of information. Accounts for several companies are well overdue.

Ministers have refused to release information around an independent valuation of the Lochaber smelter.Ministers have refused to release information around an independent valuation of the Lochaber smelter.
Ministers have refused to release information around an independent valuation of the Lochaber smelter.

Jamie Halcro Johnston, the Scottish Tory business spokesperson, labelled the response a display of SNP “characteristic secretiveness and evasion”.

He said: “While they refuse to spell out the details of the valuation they claim was conducted, no one is in a position to judge why half a billion pounds worth of public money was potentially put at risk, or on what basis.

“Even after numerous Freedom of Information requests and appeals, details are still being concealed by technicalities and claims of commercial and legal confidentiality. But this is an affair where the public interest must come first. The SNP must now be straight with the public about this whole questionable business.”

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Daniel Johnson, finance spokesperson for Scottish Labour, also labelled it an example of “SNP secrecy and cover-up”. He said: “The story of the Lochaber smelter deal is one shrouded in mystery, with only the incompetence and economic illiteracy of the SNP known for certain.

“This dodgy deal exposed the public purse to serious financial risk – that the SNP continue to indulge in cover-up simply beggars belief. The people of Scotland deserve answers and they deserve them now.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat finance spokesperson Willie Rennie said it was “entirely reasonable” for an independent valuation to be made public. He said: “The public will rightly want to know what they have got for the millions in guarantees that they have been asked to put up.

"With auditors and advisers fleeing the Gupta empire, it's entirely reasonable to expect an independent evaluation of the business to have taken place and for this to be available for the public to scrutinise. Every step of the way, ministers have chosen to cover their tracks rather than be honest with the public about their dealings.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said it was “committed to openness and transparency”, added the guarantee was approved by Holyrood’s finance committee and was subject to “regular scrutiny”.

The spokesperson also repeated the claim the assets at Lochaber are worth more than the outstanding amount guaranteed, but failed to provide evidence for the claim.

The spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government owes a duty of care to the business to protect its commercial information, but the business has confirmed the smelter is benefitting from recent buoyant aluminium prices and is currently operating profitably.”

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