Sheffield’s historic and unique status as a protected business brand is under threat – and today The Star is launching a campaign to save it.
Any firm wanting to use the name Sheffield at present has to ask the Cutlers’ Company for approval, to ensure the proposed use does not harm the city’s international reputation for quality goods.
But in the year stainless steel celebrates the centenary of its discovery by Sheffield industrialist Harry Brearley, a Government drive ‘to reduce red tape’ could see the special status axed.
The proposals are currently subject to consultation.
Business leaders fear that, if the change is made, cheap imitations of Sheffield goods could be made in countries such as China, tarnishing the brand.
And, if Sheffield’s cutlery, metal and manufacturing industry loses its reputation, there is concern it will result in fewer sales, job losses and even companies closing.
Master Cutler Neil MacDonald said: “The Government wants to take away the protection of Sheffield’s name from cheap imitations.
“We need to keep the Sheffield name protected. It stands for quality and is famous the world over. We are proud of our heritage and reputation and do not want either to be threatened.”
Sheffield’s five Labour MPs have already lobbied ministers against the plans and the Cutlers’ Company has sent strongly-worded objections.
Deputy Prime Minister and Sheffield Hallam MP Nick Clegg is also ‘supportive in principle’ of the campaign - against his Liberal Democrat colleague and Business Secretary Vince Cable.
Mr MacDonald said: “Sheffield’s name is synonymous with quality steel and cutlery, and the threat to its protected status is an issue of concern - particularly in the year of the stainless steel centenary.
“To people in London our protected name might not mean much, but it’s important because of quality. What you don’t want are imitations made in countries like China, using the Sheffield name.”
Mr MacDonald said Sheffield’s reputation dates back centuries. The Cutlers’ Company formed in 1624, and protection was given to the city’s name in the early 20th century.
He said: “We’ve had battles in the past against companies using the Sheffield brand when they shouldn’t.
“The purpose of the Cutlers’ Company approving use of the name is to ensure the city’s reputation continues to shine.”
He added: “The Cutlers’ Company does not take long to process requests and has not received any complaints.
Businesses are in favour of trying to cut red tape, but this is the wrong thing to target. Once we have lost our protected status we won’t be able to get it back.
“The Cutlers’ Company is pleased all the city’s Labour MPs are behind our campaign and I have spoken to Nick Clegg who says he is against axing the protected status in principle.”
Mr MacDonald’s concerns were echoed by Richard Wright, executive director of Sheffield Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
He said: “We want to retain the name Sheffield as synonymous with quality. We don’t want any Tom, Dick or Harry to come along and use it.”
And one of Prime Minister David Cameron’s staunchest supporters within the Sheffield business community, Andrew Cook, believes the Government has got it wrong.
Tory donor Mr Cook, chairman of steel firm William Cook Holdings, said: “The whole proposal is complete and utter nonsense.
“Sheffield’s name is like a trademark and, as far as I’m aware, the Cutlers’ Company is fulfilling its obligations to ensure applications are dealt with appropriately.
“I think there is a lot of other red tape which should be a higher priority for the Government.”