Return for Brit Steel
IN the fierce heat of a roaring blast furnace, liquid hot iron gushes forth from the taps, sending sparks dancing into the air at a sprawling steelworks in northern England.
The Scunthorpe complex is the latest reincarnation of British Steel, the former state-run behemoth that once towered over the nation’s economy – and now appears to be in recovery mode after a deep crisis.
“There’s been some dark times – periods of mass redundancy, a lot of negative press – but now we are starting to see positive results financially,” blast furnace manager Sam Thomas, 29, told AFP as melted iron ore spewed in the background.
“We’re also starting to feel a bit more like the morale is picking up,” said Thomas, who has worked at the facility for 11 years.
On its 100th day of trading on September 29, the new British Steel announced that it was back in profit following a painful costslashing turnaround plan.
The group, sold by India’s Tata Steel to investment firm Greybull Capital in May, said it had turned from “significant” losses over the last few years to a stage where it was now back in profit.
The region was thrown into disarray last year when Tata Steel put its European long products division up for sale as it refocussed on strip steel, in the face of a collapsing global market.
The move sparked worries that Scunthorpe – whose community of 65,000 inhabitants has been built around steel for generations – could become a ghost town.
In May 2016, Greybull bought the long products division – including a steel mill in Hayange in France – and renamed it British Steel in a deal under which Tata retained responsibility for the old British Steel’s costly pension scheme.
The new firm focussed its efforts on niche output of long products with keen domestic demand, and its facilities in Britain and France now produce 2.8 million tonnes per year.
News of the group’s profitability was welcomed by Scunthorpe’s 3000-strong work force, who had also agreed to a pay cut and different terms and conditions of employment.
The pay cut is now due to be reversed in June 2017. –