Glimmer of hope for UK steel industry

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Britain’s beleaguered steel industry at last has something to celebrate with a deal to save Scunthorpe’s steelworks just days away.

A sale and purchase agreement could be signed as early as Monday between private investment firm Greybull Capital and Tata Steel over the Long Products Europe business, securing around 3,500 jobs in Scunthorpe and thousands more indirectly.

Another 900 workers are based at other sites, including Teesside Beam Mill at Lackenby and Special Profiles at Skinningrove.

In further cheering news it also emerged work could get underway again as early as August at two Scottish steel mills after metals firm Liberty House formally took ownership of the Dalzell and Clydebridge plants.

However uncertainty still reigns over the future of Britain’s biggest steel plant Port Talbot, as well as sites at Rotherham and Hartlepool and 10 other operations across the UK, which all face closure and 15,000 job losses, if buyers are not found.

Knightsbridge-based Greybull Capital, which rescued the holiday airline Monarch in 2014, plans to invest £400m in the Scunthorpe steelworks, but the deal will still depend on certain conditions being met.

Workers are currently being balloted on a temporary three per cent cut in pay and a reduction in pensions.

Third-generation Scunthorpe steelworker Tony Gosling, who was employed in the mothballed plate mill, but has been redeployed, said the majority of the workforce would want to secure their future with Greybull.

The stand alone model was drawn up by management at Scunthorpe, with input from unions and management consultants.

Mr Gosling said: “I feel quite positive about the future. My own union Community has employed independent consultants Syndex who have commissioned a report which projects a bright future for the Scunthorpe site.”

Meanwhile Sanjeev Gupta, executive chair of the Liberty House Group, hailed a “new era” for the industry after being handed the keys for the Dalzell and Clydebridge plants, which will initally employ 150 workers.

At the Dalzell plant in Motherwell, North Lanarkshire, a flag with the Tata logo was removed and replaced with one bearing the name Liberty Steel.

The future of the two Scottish plants was secured last month thanks to a back-to-back agreement which involved the Scottish Government buying them from Tata Steel and immediately selling them on to Liberty.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon urged the UK and Welsh governments to step up efforts to save Port Talbot.

Ms Sturgeon said: “If there is any learning or experience we have got here that can be brought to bear in trying to secure a future for Port Talbot, we will happily share that.

“Steel is too strategically important an industry to allow it to go to the wall.”

Mr Gupta said the handover ceremony for the two Scottish works marked “the beginning of a new era for these plants, for Scottish steel and for British steel as a whole”.

He added: “Now that we are taking control of the site we will start working quickly to rehire the workforce.

“We are lucky that the Scottish Government supported the retention of the key workforce, which is key to getting started quickly, otherwise it would have been a much bigger and much more difficult undertaking.”

Liberty House has been involved in talks with Tata about the future of Port Talbot, but Mr Gupta would only say these were at an early stage.

He said: “There is a lot of work to do, it is early days there and it is a massive undertaking.”