An oil refinery facing closure with the loss of up to 850 jobs could have been saved if the plant had been sold to Russians, an MP said tonight.
Conservative Stephen Metcalfe believed a deal could have been struck with investors to buy the Coryton oil refinery in Essex, which supplies 20% of fuel in London and the South East.
But he said the sale mysteriously collapsed, leaving administrators PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) to yesterday announce they had agreed to sell most of the assets to a group spearheaded by oil giant Shell, meaning the refinery will be closed over the next three months and the site converted into an import terminal.
Mr Metcalfe claimed the sale to the Russians could have gone ahead if there had been less secrecy.
He told MPs: ``There could have been a different outcome if there had been a greater degree of openness and transparency on all sides.''
Opening a short Commons debate, Mr Metcalfe said the refinery ran into financial difficulty and placed itself into administration in January, as experts tried to find a buyer.
But tonight he accused PwC of failing to pass on information to the potential investors, which he found "extraordinary, but not surprising."
The South Basildon and East Thurrock MP said: "My current understanding is the Russian-led team bid the highest amount and that bid was processing well until something happened.
"I have no idea what something might be; I have a number of ideas but I cannot confirm any of them.
"Whatever it was that happened, the upshot was that that information was not communicated, so am I told, properly by the administrators to the buyers."
Energy Minister Charles Hendry said the Government was confident all avenues had been examined by the administrator but pledged he would ask the firm to write to Mr Metcalfe outlining its work.
And he said the Government would now do "everything possible" to help the workers facing unemployment.
But Mr Hendry defended the decision not to offer state aid to the refinery.
He said: "The existing over-capacity in the refining industry in the UK and Europe, and declining demand for petrol in Europe, means it would not have been sustainable to put public money into the refinery.
"Secondly, putting public money into the refinery would not have been a long-term solution. Simply funding the gap between the bid for the import terminal and the bid for the refinery would not have guaranteed the long-term commercial success of the refinery and it is clear significant investment would have been needed over time to keep the refinery open."
Mr Hendry said demand for petrol in the UK had dropped by 35% since 2000, while the demand for diesel had risen by 35%.
He said the Government was now working on a refining strategy for the UK but regretted work had not been started earlier by the last Government.
And Mr Hendry added: "I do hope there is some comfort in the new facility and the investment that will bring in as an import terminal."
Copyright 2012 The Press Association Limited. All Rights Reserved.
(Originally published June 27, 2012, by Press Association Mediapoint.)