MPs are set to scrutinise plans to axe as many as 250 jobs in South Yorkshire after Liberty Steel announced cutbacks to its Stockbridge plant.
The steel maker blamed “challenging” market conditions and a lingering reduction of demand for steel products in announcing the cuts in the region, part of a nationwide plan to make 355 personnel redundant across the country.
Liberty said it will now consult with unions over a proposal to axe around 250 jobs at its plant in Stocksbridge, around 70 in Newport, South Wales, and a handful at other sites.
The company said the move followed a review of its UK business, leading to a decision to reduce its workforce at certain plants.
Reacting to the news in the House of Commons, Rotherham MP Sarah Champion, asked the Leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg for Parliamentary time to be devoted to the announcement.
She said: “Whilst we, of course will hold Liberty Steel to account for the long term future, I also need the Leader of the House to find time so that we can hold the Government to account because the underlying structural issues with the government are responsible for have not been dealt with. Please will you find time for an hour and a half debate on this very important topic?”
In response Mr Rees-Mogg suggested it could be discussed at business questions on January 21 and added: “I think this is such an important issue it is well worth raising.”
Unions reacted angrily to the announcement.
Ross Murdoch, national officer of the GMB union, said: “Once again we have more bad news for the UK steel industry. A country that doesn’t produce its own steel for key infrastructure projects and shipbuilding is a country that’s destined to fail. Our steelworkers deserve better than this.”
Liberty’s chief executive Cornelius Louwrens said he hoped that many of the proposed cuts could be achieved via a voluntary redundancy programme.
The firm has set up a new company, GFG Workforce Solutions, to enable employees hit by the cutback to remain within the GFG Alliance, a group of companies which includes Liberty.
He said: “Unfortunately, the steel industry in the UK is facing challenging conditions and we have made the difficult decision that there is a need to reduce the workforce at a handful of locations, in order to make them sustainable for the long-term. It has always been our intention, and always will be, to avoid compulsory redundancies.”
The announcement come after British Steel came close to collapse last year. Its 5,000 staff, many of whom are based in the Yorkshire area, were faced with an uncertain future when the firm went into liquidation last May.
A rescue package from Chinese firm Jingye Group is currently under active consideration with reports that the deal could be finalised in the next few weeks.
Roy Rickhuss, general secretary of the Community union, said: “News of more steel industry job cuts is concerning and this will be a worrying time for many steelworkers and their families in South Yorkshire and South Wales.
“Today’s announcement shows yet again that challenges remain for the UK’s steel industry and that is why we reiterate our call on Government to meet with unions and employers in the industry to discuss action on the outstanding issues which we have been campaigning on for some time, such as energy costs, business rates and procurement.”