Thursday, December 3, 2015

News: Sheffield city region steels itself for Tata jobs blow

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Representatives from across the Sheffield city region (SCR) are putting together a joint action plan as it looks more and more likely that the proposed restructuring at Tata Steel is going ahead.

Over 500 local jobs are at risk but there's also a hope that some R&D activity can remain in the region.

Indian-owned steelmaker, Tata Steel has for a long time been warning that continuing cheap imports risk undermining Europe's steel industry and that uncompetitive energy costs and the strength of sterling are hurting its UK operations.

The company recently confirmed proposals affecting 1,200 jobs, mainly in Scunthorpe and Scotland. It follows the announcement in July of a restructure of its speciality and bar business to focus on high-value markets such as aerospace - a move that has put 720 jobs are at risk, many in Rotherham.

Over 2,000 people are employed by the company in South Yorkshire where sites like Stocksbridge in Sheffield and Aldwarke in Rotherham, focus on exceptional high-value products and sectors. Rotherham is also the location for the manufacture of speciality steel and for the Proving Factory - a £22m government-backed manufacturing initiative working on low-carbon vehicle technologies.

It is estimated that over 1,000 suppliers to Tata Steel are in the Sheffield city region.

The Sheffield city region local enterprise partnership (LEP) are looking at two issues - how to help create a more level playing field for Tata Steel and how to help mitigate the economic impact on the city region of Tata restructuring.

A report to the next LEP Board meeting outlines a proposed action plan which includes: lobbying Government on national policy issues affecting UK steel producers; supporting SCR companies at risk in the Tata supply-chain; and helping to coordinate a Government response to support individuals that are made redundant.

John Healey MP, whose constituency includes Tata's Aldwarke site, has called on the Government to give extensive support to Rotherham and has demanded the Chancellor announce action to help the steel industry in the city region after up to £9m of support from the government and Tata was announced to support Scunthorpe steel workers and the local economy.

Tata is expected to confirm the final number of job losses in South Yorkshire soon. After redundancies were announced in the summer, independent experts Syndex were commissioned to review the business case and look at alternatives. But in a letter to Mr Healey, Tata's European CEO Karl Kohler confirmed the company will reject Syndex's proposals which would have seen fewer redundancies.

Mr Healey said: "Rotherham has become the forgotten town of the steel crisis. We're being hit just as badly as other parts of the country, we're facing hundreds of job losses, but the government is not giving us any of the support pledged to other steel towns.

"It's a month after the steel summit, when the industry minister came to Rotherham and pledged to help – but there is still no money on the table. They're all talk and no action. We're the town the Tories ignore."

Rotherham Council is set to co-ordinate a multi-disciplinary "Taskforce" to negotiate with Tata and co-ordinate local action.

A cost saving and restructure programme saw the company, then known as Corus, announce in 2009 that 1,100 jobs would be lost in Rotherham. Over 100 jobs were under threat of redundancy in a 2012 restructure which included plans to reduce its production and shift levels in Rotherham. Tata Steel has said that it will relocate all its UK-based research and development within two years, including moving away from the Swinden Technology Centre (STC) in Rotherham.

The LEP has highlighted that two groups still at the Swinden Technology Centre (a research group within "Longs", and "Group Environment") have current proposals to remain within Rotherham / SCR but need to present compelling businesses cases to Tata's board.

The LEP is set to look at supporting the business case with financial support to secure the long term future of these groups. It would see 70 jobs remain in the area.

Tata Steel website

Images: Tata Steel

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