Why workers and businesses believe nationalisation of Sheffield Forgemasters brings hope for the future
Times have been tough for historic steel manufacturer Sheffield Forgemasters over the last 20 years.
In 2005, it was saved by a management buyout, with workers also buying into the company after it was saved from administration. As recently as last year, the firm made 95 roles redundant because of the pandemic’s impact on its commercial manufacturing.
Now, with the company struggling to afford major investment needed for the future, it is going into public ownership after the Ministry of Defence decided to buy the firm which plays a vital role in many of its projects.
It may not have been a complete surprise, as reports have emerged in the media earlier this year that something may be in the pipeline – but an announcement on Wednesday morning finally confirmed it.
The MoD has said its intention is to invest up to £400m over the next 10 years to replace defence-critical equipment and infrastructure, positioning the company to retain and create new highly skilled manufacturing jobs within the city. The immediate cost of the acquisition is £2.56 million for the entire share capital of the company plus debt assumed.
Unions quickly backed the move. Unite's assistant general secretary for manufacturing, Steve Turner said: "It brings to an end years of instability for this historic 215-year-old company, but is also a sign that government is maybe finally waking up to a crisis of its own making. Critical infrastructure industries like steel function better in public hands and advanced economies like our own need to have stable, secure domestic steel production capabilities to protect our national security interests as well as to compete in global markets.”
For staff at the company’s giant Brightside Lane works, full details of the takeover were being explained to them at work. Some of those on later shifts were waiting to find the finer details from bosses after hearing the news break in the morning.
The common reaction of those walking through the gates today in their hard hats was relief, and a feeling that there was job security at the firm which has been through some bumpy times over the last couple of decades.
One member of staff walking between the firm’s sites on either side of the road, said he was pleased at the news that the Government was buying the company. He declined to be named, but said he felt that the move would keep the jobs at the firm a lot longer than they would otherwise be there.
"It’s got to be good news that you’re working for the Government,” he said.
Another, walking through the gates with a group of colleagues, added: “I think the majority of people working here are happy with this.”
Long serving worker at the famous steelworks, Dave Bartholomew, was in no doubt that the move into public ownership was a good thing.
Dave, from Rotherham, said: “I think it is the best news ever for Sheffield.
"My feeling is that it secures the site, it secures the business, and it means that we have longevity of employment. I am pleased.
“I’ve worked here since 2008. Nothing can be 100 per cent secure but it certainly adds something. I think we have a lot of exciting times ahead of us.”
Another steelworker, who declined to give his name, but said he was from Wincobank, said he had been working at Forgemasters for 15 years. He added: “It can only be good news.”
Another worker said he would rather not comment as he had not heard all the details yet.
Chief executive David Bond spoke to The Star outside the historic frontage of the factory.
He said he thought it was fantastic news that the business was going into public ownership.
He said: “Public ownership was the only realistic option to achieve the scale of investment that we want to put into this business to make sure we replaced our ageing plant and equipment which supports defence programmes.
"We have a world class workforce here who do fantastic things, but they need new equipment to make sure we can support those programmes over the next 10 to 20 years.”
He said the move secured jobs because it gave a more secure footing for the business.
Contractors on the site were also hoping that the move would make work that they carry out on behalf of Forgemasters would be more secure.
Roofer Joe Walton, from High Green, who is among the team which looks after the buildings agreed he thought it was good news. Window cleaner Stefan Miller, who also does contract work on the site, said he hoped that it would make work more secure.
Other local businesses whose cusomers include those who work at Forgemasters, hoped that the security that the public ownership is set to bring the manufacturer would help their own businesses.
Among those is Teresa McMaster.
Teresa recently opened Tilly’s, a hot and cold food takeaway which is one of the closest to the Forgemasters, on Attercliffe Common, a few minutes walk from the giant industrial site which is largely away from shops and cafes.
She said: “We’ve only been open for about three weeks. But my feeling is people from the steelworks are good customers up to now, and I am really pleased if this means that their jobs are more secure, because that makes our customers that bit more secure.”
Her feelings were shared by Mohammad Younis, who runs the Big Filla diner, a few yards down the road, on Broughton Lane. He said they sometimes do delivery orders to the steelworks.
He said: “I think they come here for takeaways, but it’s difficult to tell where people are coming from. But we do do deliveries there. I think this is good news for businesses like ours.”