A large part of 2016’s manufacturing industry chatter centred around Tata steel, the Indian steel giant with, at that time, a huge presence in the UK, encompassing plants in locations across the UK. Early last year, however, the company was seeking a way out of the European market (and the UK in particular), after reporting a net loss of 32.9 billion rupees for Q1 2016.
That was bad news for the 11,000 employees of Tata’s UK operations, who were thrown into a state of uncertainty by the news that their jobs, largely specialist, were at significant risk. What would follow was a prolonged negotiation between Tata steel, the Government (which offered to take 25% of the business in order to save jobs) and a total of seven bidders.
Those bidders included the commodities trading groups Liberty House and Greybull. The latter firm later agreed to acquire Tata’s Scunthorpe steelworks for a nominal fee of £1, plus all debts that the operation had accrued. However, it was the former group which made the biggest moves, taking large swathes of their business and saving jobs.
Now, almost 10 months since the first Tata news stories broke, Tata Steel have completed the £100m sale of its speciality steels business to Liberty House, safeguarding 1,700 jobs and creating 300 more in the north of England.
The deal will secure the future of sites in Rotherham, Stocksbridge and Brinsworth, as well as other sites in Bolton and Wednesbury. It also includes a pair of distribution centres in China. Liberty House have announced that they intend to invest up to £20m in the new plant and equipment over the next year in order to boost competitiveness in a post-Brexit landscape.
Sanjeev Gupta, the head of Liberty House, said the deal represented “a big vote of confidence in the future of British industry”.
He added: “With the right business model and an innovative approach, the UK steel and engineering sectors can recover and thrive. The government is now pursuing a new post-Brexit industrial strategy and steel must be at the heart of that strategy.
“The speciality steels business is a global leader in its field, with a highly-skilled and well-motivated workforce and we are eager to invest so it can grow and achieve its full potential.”
The extra 300 jobs will primarily take the form of production jobs in the Yorkshire plants, however, Liberty said that it had “bigger plans” across the wider business, too. That’s good news for the wider UK manufacturing, which will benefit from a strong steel industry, with local steel available for the production of stainless steel parts, like our adaptors.
Roy Rickhuss, the general secretary of Community, the steelworkers’ trade union, welcomed the deal, saying: “The completion of the sale will bring some welcome certainty to a workforce that has faced a tough time over recent months and years. It demonstrates that with the right vision there are opportunities for the UK steel industry to grow.”
Tony Brady, the national officer at the union Unite, said the deal brought to an end “months of agonising uncertainty” for workers. “This is a workforce which has done everything asked of them over the last few years to give speciality steelmaking a fighting chance in the UK. Liberty House’s commitments on jobs and new investment are a welcome recognition of the skills of a dedicated workforce.”