Star Comment - Steel producers must be first in line for a Brexit dividend

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Liberty boss Sanjeev Gupta swept into Rotherham for the official handover of Speciality Steels in 2017, every inch the billionaire industrialist.

Huge cars, expensive suits and - in a marquee erected in the car park at Thrybergh - friendly bonhomie with fellow tycoon Bimlendra Jha of Tata who was selling up after failing to make it pay.

But although the £100m deal was relatively small beer in Mr Gupta’s global empire, this was no plaything for a playboy.

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He immediately announced 300 new jobs, £15m investment and plans to re-start giant mothballed furnaces.

Liberty boss Sanjeev Gupta, right, and Prince Charles on a visit to Speciality Steels in Rotherham.Liberty boss Sanjeev Gupta, right, and Prince Charles on a visit to Speciality Steels in Rotherham.
Liberty boss Sanjeev Gupta, right, and Prince Charles on a visit to Speciality Steels in Rotherham.

It was a huge boost to a business laid low by repeated redundancies, the most recent just two years earlier which took out more than 685 staff.

But the underlying problems didn’t go away, culminating in the announcement yesterday that 283 jobs in South Yorkshire - and a total of about 350 nationally - were at risk of redundancy.

Bosses said weak demand due to politicial uncertainty and issues around Brexit played a part.

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But they came on top of high business rates, high electricity costs, cheap imports and a failure to prioritise British products in government procurement.

Today, there are 1,500 workers split between Rotherham (Aldwarke, Thrybergh and Brinsworth) and Stocksbridge.

Mr Gupta was lucky that in 2018, market conditions swung his way for a time.

An upturn in Chinese demand, tariffs on ‘dumped’ steel, a weak pound helping exports, prices up about 50 per cent on the previous year and even fitful signs of a recovery in oil and gas all helped.

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A commitment to apprentices, possibly the country’s first female engineering academy, and sponsorship of engineering event Get Up To Speed all showed Liberty took seriously its wider role in the community.

Speciality Steels, which traces its roots back to British Steel, is a proud operation which boasts that its products are involved in the takeoff or landing of a commercial aircraft every three seconds somewhere in the world.

But the steel industry needs help.

The public sector is the single biggest buyer of steel in the UK, worth £2.5 billion in the next five years, but at present UK manufacturers miss out on opportunities due to poor processes and procedures.

The new government won the election pledging ‘to take back control’ - it should introduce ‘buy British’ regulations immediately.

This early ‘Brexit dividend’ for one of our most important industries would show voters that leaving the EU has benefits and is not, as many fear, set to be hugely damaging for business and jobs.