British Steel workers face nervous wait as talks to avoid administration continue

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Ben Chapman

The future of 5,000 British Steel workers remains uncertain as they face a nervous wait to see if the company will go into administration or not.

It comes as the owners of Britain's second-largest steel producer continue to lobby for government backing.

British Steel had been seeking £75 million in financial support to help it to address "Brexit-related issues", but it is thought to have reduced this amount to £30 million.

If the firm does not get the money, not only would it affect the company's 5,000 employees, but a further 20,000 jobs in the supply chain would also be affected - something union Unite said would be an "economic catastrophe".

Meanwhile Labour and the unions have said that if a deal cannot be reached, then British Steel should be nationalised.

However, the Government has reassured MPs it will "leave no stone unturned" in supporting the UK steel industry.

Business minister Andrew Stephenson told the Commons the Government would do everything it could, within its legal parameters, to support the industry.

"I can reassure the House that, subject to strict legal bounds, the Government will leave no stone unturned in its support for the steel industry," he said.

Workers in Scunthorpe leaving after their shift on Tuesday afternoon said they were in the dark over the future.

One spoke of how he was "worried sick" and "petrified" about what would happen to the plant.

Sarah Camfield, owner of Sarah's Cafe which serves hundreds of steelworkers every day, says "the town will feel completely dead" if the company folds.

She said: "It's massive to them [the workers] - they are a very proud community of what they do so it needs saving."

Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said: "While Unite is in continuing dialogue with British Steel and the UK Government, we are very clear that if a deal cannot be struck to secure the long-term future of the steelmaker under private ownership, that the Government must bring it under public control in the national interest.

"British Steel's success is key to any future UK industrial strategy. It is a strategically important business which supplies other UK steelmakers with product and provides 95% of the UK's rail tracks.

"It would be an economic catastrophe if the worst were to happen and Government was to allow British Steel to collapse.

"It is a national asset supporting UK plc that cannot simply be left to the market."

Workers are hoping the Government will intervene to safeguard their future. Credit: ITV News

UK Steel director general Gareth Stace said the Government statement provided a "glimmer of hope" for the Scunthorpe site.

"Many of the challenges we face are not unique to the steel sector - the whole manufacturing sector is crying out for certainty over Brexit, unable at present to plan with any accuracy the trading relationship it will have with its biggest market in just five months' time," he said.

"We can only state again the need for a swift resolution to this issue and the need to avoid a no-deal scenario at all costs."

He added that longstanding issues such as uncompetitive electricity prices and business rates also continued to deter investment in UK manufacturing.

Alasdair McDiarmid, operations director at the Community union, said it was vital for cool heads to prevail and British Steel owners Greybull and the Government continue to focus on finding a solution that maintains employment and keeps the business trading.

"The public should know that if British Steel were liquidated, on top of the devastation of yet more steel communities, the clean-up costs for the industrial sites could end up costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of pounds," he said.

"Pragmatic decisions in the coming days could avert another industrial disaster. In that context we do not want to see British Steel becoming a political football, the stakes in this game are too high."

Some 4,000 workers are employed at the steel plant in Scunthorpe. Credit: ITV News

Labour's Gill Furniss, shadow minister for steel, said the government had to intervene.

"Administration would be devastating for the thousands of workers and their families who rely on this key industry in a part of the country which has not had enough support and investment from government over decades," she said.

Last week, British Steel announced it had the backing of key stakeholders and that operations would continue as normal.

The company has asked for a package of support to tackle Brexit-related issues.