Scunthorpe steelworkers' fears as 4,000 British Steel jobs hang in the balance

The Government has been urged to take British Steel back into public ownership if a last-minute deal cannot be struck to save the steelmaker from insolvency.

Under threat: British Steel at Scunthorpe
Under threat: British Steel at Scunthorpe

Some 4,000 jobs at Scunthorpe and 20,000 more in the supply chain hang in the balance as private equity fund owner Greybull Capital seeks a multi-million pound Government bailout.

Greybull, which brought Tata Steel for a nominal £1 in 2016, has come in for increasing criticism, including for its acquisition last week of French steelmaker Ascoval for more than £40m.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Britain's second-largest steel producer has been reportedly saddled with high-interest loans by its Jersey-based subsidiary, while Greybull is said to have been charging management fees of £3m a year.

British Steel was acquired by Greybull Capital for a nominal 1 in 2016

The turnaround business has had a number of failures including Monarch Airlines, which went into administration in 2017, four years after it acquired the airline, with the loss of 1,800 jobs.

Steelmaking is integral to Scunthorpe and many fear its closure would leave it a ghosttown.

Workers yesterday said they had "been left in the dark" as concerns mounted for their future.

Scunthorpe MP Nic Dakin said it was a “very anxious time” for steelworkers and their families.

British Steel at Scunthorpe as the waiting continues

He said: “The steelworks are the beating heart of the local community of northern Lincolnshire.

“It’s more than just Scunthorpe, it is an industry that is crucial to the UK. The UK cannot be a serious independent modern nation if it doesn’t have a steel-making capacity.

“It would harm its manufacturing base, its infrastructure and defence security.”

In the Commons Business Minister Andrew Stephenson said the Government would “leave no stone unturned” in supporting the steel industry.

But Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner warned that it would be an “economic catastrophe” if the business - which makes 95 per cent of the UK’s rail tracks - were to close.

He said: “While Unite is in continuing dialogue with British Steel and the UK government, we are very clear that if a deal cannot be struck to secure the long term future of the steelmaker under private ownership, that the government must bring it under public control in the national interest.

“British Steel’s success is key to any future UK industrial strategy.”

Alasdair McDiarmid, operations director at the Community union, said they believed there was a deal to be done.

He added: "The parties appear to be arguing over tens of millions when, if a solution is not found, the taxpayer will end up picking up a bill in the hundreds of millions to clean up the industrial sites and repair these communities.

"There should be no hiding behind state aid rules. The French government put in tens of millions to save 300 jobs at the Ascoval steelworks in France just last week."

Labour called on the Government to take a public stake in British Steel if necessary to protect jobs and support the UK's infrastructure and renewable energy systems.

Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said: "The collapse of British Steel would have a devastating impact on thousands of jobs in Scunthorpe, and could have major knock-on effects on wider supply chains.

"Once again, our communities are being betrayed by a Tory Government whose free market obsession is threatening Britain's vital manufacturing base - just as they were under Margaret Thatcher."