BP is to shed nearly 180 jobs from its refinery in Grangemouth, taking employment at the site below 1000 for the first time, writes Ken Smith.

Local MP Michael Connarty said the job losses would be a hammer blow to the local economy. He argued that, although the losses would be achieved through voluntary redundancies, many of those leaving would live locally, taking valuable jobs and spending out of the area.

Although other companies have announced limited recruitment at Grangemouth recently, many jobs are going to people from outside the area. Young people, said Mr Connarty, were finding it more difficult to find work locally.

BP told the MP the jobs were going in order to increase productivity at the refinery. Nearly 100 are in the process and maintenance departments with about 60 outside contractors' jobs being cut.

Part of the pressure on BP is that the average barrel price of oil has dropped to $14 from $18, due to Opec countries fighting for market share.

Mr Connarty said: ''If the barrel price goes back up, they will get the extra return they are seeking, but by then they will have screwed these jobs out of the system. The local enterprise company is trying to help create 1000 jobs over the next decade, but now they will have to find 1177 just to stand still.'' Mr Connarty also questioned how health and safety standards could be kept on target with so many maintenance jobs going.

Trade unions are hoping to meet the company to discuss the job losses in the hope of having the total reduced.