A RESCUE plan to save the East Lancashire Paper Mill has led to a mood of cautious optimism for its future.

Earlier this month around 40 members of the 250-strong workforce were axed in a series of shock redundancies after the 140-year-old company went into administration.

Strong foreign competitors, the strength of sterling and escalating raw material costs have been blamed.

But on Wednesday (Jan 24), a spokesman for chartered accountants Arthur Andersen, who were recruited in an attempt to save it from going into receivership, revealed: "There are a number of visits arranged for potential buyers and there has been good progress in returning the company to profitability. Customers and staff have provided a good level of support and it looks encouraging." Bury South MP Ivan Lewis, who has been in close contact with ELPM management and relevant trade unions, welcomed the news.

"I have been working closely with the mill for some time to put together the rescue plan," he said. "This has involved arranging and attending meetings with third parties including getting help from the DTI."

He added: "I remain hopeful that the commitment and skill of the East Lancs Paper Mill staff and management will be rewarded by a solution which ensures the mill's survival."

Mr Lewis said he was particularly concerned for those employees who had lost their jobs as a result of decisions taken by the administrator. He has asked the Government to speed up the redundancy payments owed to those workers.

He added: "We must do everything in our power to save ELPM as it is an important part of Radcliffe's economy.

Councillor Barry Briggs, the chairman of Radcliffe Area Board, said: "The hope is that the company will succeed in continued trading, but I realise that these are highly competitive times. Still, the council will give whatever support it can."