FORGEMASTERS: Unions press Government to ‘save our steel’

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Britain’s largest union Unite has intensified calls for ministers to ‘save our steel’ after up to 100 redundancies were announced at Forgemasters.

It wants guidance on infrastructure procurement to be turned into orders for the UK steel industry to create a level playing field with competitors.

Calling for cast iron guarantees that ‘if it’s built for Britain it uses British steel’, the union urged minsters to give assurances there wouldn’t be a repeat of the phase one tendering process for Hinckley Point C.

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British firms such as Sheffield Forgemasters, which specialise in steel castings for the energy and civil nuclear industry, were reportedly excluded from the process, Unite says.

Sheffield Forgemasters has started consultations on 100 redundancies, just days after Tata cut 1,050 jobs mainly at Port Talbot in south Wales.

The company said a slump in the traditional oil and gas sector, the slowing of growth in the global economy and an international collapse in steel prices had hit its results for 2014.

It also cited acute pricing pressures from international competitors combined with high UK energy costs as key factors.

In addition to job cuts to the 700 strong workforce, it is expected that there will be contractual changes over the next two years as the company implements its turnaround plan.

Harish Patel Unite, national officer for steel, said: “World class companies like Sheffield Forgemasters need urgent support and a level playing field with their international competitors if they are to survive.

“It wasn’t that long ago that government ministers pulled the plug on a loan that would have allowed Sheffield Forgemasters to invest in new equipment making it more productive.

“The government now needs to right that wrong by guaranteeing that British companies such as Sheffield Forgemasters are never again excluded from tendering for British infrastructure projects.

“If it’s made for Britain then it should be built using British steel. Firms such as Forgemasters should be looking forward to helping build the new gas and nuclear power plants which are in the pipeline, not left fighting for their survival on an uneven playing field.

“Over the coming weeks and months Unite will be working closely with the company to secure its long-term future and supporting our members through this difficult time.

“But yet again we urge the government to act swiftly and decisively to secure the future of our steel industry as part of an active industrial strategy before it’s too late.”

Roy Rickhuss, Community’s general secretary said: “Every sector of the UK steel industry is caught up in the current crisis. We keep saying that delays in implementation of support and a lack of swift and decisive action by Government only puts more steel jobs at risk. Today’s announcement by Sheffield Forgemasters just increases the number of steelworkers and their families worried about their futures.

“We will be meeting with the company in the coming days to examine and test their proposals, mitigate the impact on jobs and ensure a sustainable future for the business.

“The spectre of the UK’s cosy relationship with China hangs over the entire steel industry. The Prime Minister needs to stand up to China and stand up for our steel industry.

“When it is cut out of procurement deals such as at Hinkley Point, or sees its Government cheerleading for China’s market economy status then it’s no wonder the industry is in crisis.

“We need to see evidence that Government is committed to the long-term future of UK steel making and that needs a lot more short-term action.”

Shadow business secretary Angela Eagle said: “These latest job losses will be devastating news for the workers affected especially given the uncertainty that they’ve endured as the plant restructures to secure its near-term future. There is also a loss to the wider economy due the high-quality and specialist nature of the steel produced at the plant which is of strategic importance to our national security.

“The Government must take faster and more decisive action to assist, especially on relief for business rates and high energy costs.”

French energy giant EDF, which is building a new nuclear power station at Hinkley in Somerset, said the UK does not currently have the capability or capacity of producing the very largest forgings required by the power station, so these will have to be sourced from outside the UK.

There will be opportunity for suppliers, including those in the UK, to compete in the supply of forged components for the turbine generators and in other items such as pumps, motors, valves and the like.

Construction at Hinkley Point C will provide 25,000 jobs in the UK, 1,000 apprenticeships, and more than 60% of the project’s construction value is expected to come from British companies.

“Hinkley Point C is a big opportunity for UK steel, as well as for UK construction and manufacturing more widely,” said EDF.

A Government spokesman said: “It has been a challenging time for the steel industry facing tough global economic conditions. We will work with local partners to help anyone made redundant find new jobs as quickly as possible.

“We understand that Sheffield Forgemasters is taking this step to restructure the business to secure its long-term future and welcome the news that its lending facility has been extended.

“The Government has taken clear action to help the steel industry, through cutting energy costs, taking action on imports, Government procurement and EU emissions regulations, meeting key steel industry asks.”