FIRST INTERVIEW: Furnace to be re-lit as Liberty Speciality Steels fires up

Liberty Speciality Steels worker

Liberty Speciality Steels worker

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The new boss of a South Yorkshire steel firm has unveiled plans to re-start its biggest furnace, use green energy to power the plants and create 300 jobs.

Jon Bolton, chief executive of Liberty Speciality Steels, said he also wanted to reinstate a mothballed bar coiler at Thrybergh, reopen a bloom caster at Aldwarke and spend £15m-a-year on equipment and staff.

Jon Bolton, left, and Liberty owner Sanjeev Gupta talk to John Bonser, team leader in the caster and ingot bay, at the plant in Rotherham. Photo by Glenn Ashley.

Jon Bolton, left, and Liberty owner Sanjeev Gupta talk to John Bonser, team leader in the caster and ingot bay, at the plant in Rotherham. Photo by Glenn Ashley.

In his first interview since Liberty House Group bought the business from Tata for £100m three weeks ago, Mr Bolton said that as well as reinstating the mothballed ‘N’ electric arc furnace - used to melt scrap steel - he would bring the smaller ‘T’ furnace back up to capacity.

He also wanted to grow the bar business four-fold over the next two years and introduce a ‘buy-local’ policy. Some people on temporary contracts had already been made permanent as a “statement of intent” ahead of creating 300 jobs, he added.

Speciality Steels employs 1,700 at five steelworks, some 890 at a purifying facility in Stocksbridge, 618 at Aldwarke and Thrybergh in Rotherham and 99 at a bar mill in Brinsworth. It also has units in Wednesbury, Bolton and two in China. Mr Bolton said the company lost millions in its final two years as Tata.

But the market had improved and Liberty was smaller, more agile and had a different business model. And he wanted staff to be “empowered” to have faith in their capabilities.

Jon Bolton Liberty Speciality Steels chief executive . Photo by Glenn Ashley.

Jon Bolton Liberty Speciality Steels chief executive . Photo by Glenn Ashley.

He added: “The response from employees has been brilliant. I spent the first few days visiting all areas, meeting the teams and being clear about our plans for the future.”

Liberty’s plan is to own the steel process from end to end, buying UK scrap, melting, processing and selling some to its 13 engineering businesses.

“Steel is traditionally run on very thin margins, with many players taking a share. The problem is no one is making huge amounts of money. Ours is a new model in terms of ownership, control and management.” Mr Bolton added.

The firm also wants to introduce ‘green energy’ - possibly bio-diesel - at Stocksbridge and Rotherham to save money on electricity and gas bills.

Liberty Speciality Steels, Rotherham. Photo by Glenn Ashley.

Liberty Speciality Steels, Rotherham. Photo by Glenn Ashley.

Meanwhile, Liberty was already replacing Tata’s national supply contracts with local ones, he added.

“We will always look to source as much as we can locally, we recognise the contribution the business makes to the local community. I think Speciality Steels has a bright future. Every time I go into the plant and talk to people you get a buzz.”

Jon Bolton is on a task force with other steel firms developing a sector deal as part of the government’s industrial strategy. Business Secretary Greg Clark was taking a personal interest in it, Mr Bolton said. It is likely to involve government co-investing in schemes with industry.

Liberty Speciality Steels, Rotherham. Photo by Glenn Ashley.

Liberty Speciality Steels, Rotherham. Photo by Glenn Ashley.

Liberty Speciality Steels headquarters in Stocksbridge.

Liberty Speciality Steels headquarters in Stocksbridge.

The old Tata sign has been replaced at the Stocksbridge steelworks.

The old Tata sign has been replaced at the Stocksbridge steelworks.

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