By Dr Ian Greenwood, Associate Professor in Industrial Relations and Human Resource Management, CERIC, Leeds University Business School.
What a difference three years makes. The UK’s steel industry was rocked in late 2015 when the 98-
year-old Redcar Steel works in Teesside was mothballed, subsequently to close. Some feared the
game was up for the sector when Tata Steel followed by putting its entire UK business assets up for
sale in 2016.
Yet, three years later, the UK’s steel industry is still here and playing a vital part in the economy.
Tata’s partial divestment led to the entry of two new companies - Liberty Steel and British Steel - into
the UK and an upswing in the global steel market has provided much needed breathing space and
time for reflection. But the future remains uncertain, particularly with Brexit and tariffs on steel exports
to the US.
Gareth Stace, Director General of the steel manufacturers’ organisation, UK Steel, has a deep
understanding of the national and global steel industry. This month he discussed the future of the
UK’s steel industry at a special event at Leeds University Business School (LUBS).
Business people, members of the public and students heard Stace talk about the situation of the
UK steel industry, the factors that have contributed to its underlying difficulties, and what action must
now be taken to deliver a modern and sustainable industry for the 21 st century. He discussed the
industry’s strategic importance to the UK’s economy and how steel fits with ambitions set out in the
Government’s 2017 White Paper for an Industrial Strategy.
The steel industry is of vital national importance to the UK: not only does it employ around 31,000
people in manufacture and processing, it plays a critical role in supporting supply and value chains in
steel and the wider manufacturing sector. While numbers directly employed in the UK have fallen – in
1971 the industry employed 320,000 people –in parts of the country where they aren’t always easy to
come by, including parts of south Wales, the North East and Yorkshire and Humberside, it provides
The industry has been challenged by an oversupply of cheap steel from China, and in May
2018, when President Trump imposed a 25% import duty on steel entering the US. Stace has been
critical of Trump’s decision, describing the tariffs as “bad for the steel sector, for international relations
and for free trade.”
While Stace is optimistic about the future of the UK’s steel industry, he is pragmatic about the
challenges it faces. This is particularly true given the potential challenges posed by Brexit. The UK is
the fifth largest steel producer in Europe, after Germany, Italy, France and Spain. UK Steel is a
member of Eurofer, the European steel industry association, giving Stace a fascinating European
perspective on what might happen in March 2019. Last month, UK Steel warned that a ‘no-deal’ Brexit
would leave the UK’s steel sector vulnerable.
This event was part of LUBS’s Corporate Wisdom lecture series. These events give the city the chance
to hear prominent business leaders from around the world discussing the challenges - and
opportunities – that they face. They are excellent networking opportunities, with alumni, staff and
students mingling with business leaders and entrepreneurs.
For more information about the corporate wisdom lectures: https://business.leeds.ac.uk/about-us/events/category/corporate-wisdom/