HUNDREDS of Scottish jobs are under threat after a US pharmaceutical giant announced the closure of a medical equipment manufacturing plant.

Johnson & Johnson said the Ethicon factory in Livingston, West Lothian, will close with the loss of 400 jobs as part of a “global restructuring” of the group.

It means the firm will have axed 1,200 Scottish manufacturing jobs in just over a decade as they move production to low-cost facilities overseas.

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Trade union Unite said the potential closure of the plant was “shocking news” that would be “heartbreaking” for staff.

The firm, which made annual profits of more than £16 billion last year, is launching a consultation process with the employees of its subsidiary, Ethicon, and is in talks with UK and Scottish ministers.

The Livingston plant produces six per cent of the group’s global output of surgical sutures. The company said that, if the plant closed, production would shift to Texas, Brazil and Mexico.

Ethicon shed 850 jobs in 2003 after scaling back its facilities for manufacturing surgical sutures and needles in Edinburgh and moved it to Puerto Rico.

Unite regional officer Derek Ormston said: “This is shocking news. Many of our members at Ethicon have given long years of service to the company and to be rewarded in this way will be heartbreaking. There will also be feelings of uncertainty and anger. 

“We will be looking for support from politicians and public bodies. Ethicon has received public money to support its operations in Livingston, so it has a special responsibility to the workers.”

Ethicon received more than £2 million in public grants in 2005 to expand the factory under Scottish Enterprise’s Regional Assistance Grants scheme.

Scottish Government ministers, including First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, and enterprise agencies had been in discussions with Johnson & Johnson.

Economy Secretary Keith Brown said: “That work has been detailed and intensive, looking at what we can do both to help address immediate business challenges and to maximise the site’s future potential.

“Unfortunately, despite our very best efforts, the company has decided to enter into consultation on possible site closure, which is hugely disappointing.”

In a statement, the company said: “Today, JJMD initiated the consultation process with the regional and local works councils to propose our intent to close the Ethicon ‘Kirkton’ manufacturing site in Livingston, Scotland. This could potentially impact approximately 400 employees, pending the outcome of the consultation process.”

Johnson & Johnson also announced it was expanding operations in West Africa with a new office in Kenya and another opened this week in Ghana.

In a further jobs blow, oil giant BP has cancelled plans to build a new gas-fired combined heat and power plant at Kinneil oil terminal in Grangemouth.

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Up to 400 temporary jobs were expected to be created if the company had gone ahead with the proposal.

BP said it had reached an agreement in principle with Grangemouth refinery operators Ineos to provide the Kinneil site with power and steam. Ineos will continue to buy dry gas and liquefied petroleum gases 
from BP.

Plans for the new plant were approved by Scottish ministers in March last year.

A BP spokesman said: “In a challenging business environment, BP continues to review how our finite capital investment funds can be most effectively and efficiently be spent. 

“As part of this review, we have looked again at the requirement to invest in a new Combined Heat and Power plant at Kinneil.”