By Kris Jepson
Exclusive: A Teesside steelworker has told ITV News Tyne Tees that the government must “take action” over business rates and energy costs, as questions hang over the future of British Steel.
The company was forced into compulsory liquidation in May despite the government providing it with a bridging loan of £120m in April to comply with EU emissions rules. The move followed a breakdown in rescue talks between the government and the company's owner, Greybull Capital.
The official receiver is currently discussing the sale of British Steel with several bidders, however a deal in unlikely to be secured imminently.
The ongoing uncertainty has raised concerns in the North East communities of the firm’s plants at Lackenby and Skinningrove.
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Richard Caddy has worked at Lackenby steelworks near Middlesbrough, Teesside, for 24 years. Several generations of his family have plied their trade in the industry for more than 120 years.
Just 10 years ago he campaigned to save 1,700 steelworker’s jobs at Corus’ Redcar site amid plans to mothball the plant. That site’s blast furnace was finally extinguished in 2015 when SSI collapsed, costing more than 2,000 workers their jobs.
Walking along Redcar beach with the now dormant former SSI blast furnace filling the skyline, the steelworker told ITV News he is “hopeful” British Steel can be saved but said the government must “take action” to help the industry become more sustainable.
The Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy Secretary, Greg Clark MP, told ITV News the official receiver is "currently going through, in detail, the due diligence, the checks, on the bids that have been made" and he said he is "very confident in the future of the industry", because "we have a reputation for some of the best steel-making in the world" and "that is one of the reasons we have got such a passion to do everything we can... to make the best possible case to potential owners".
Asked about the steelworkers' concerns about high business rates and energy costs, he said the government would work with bidders to make British Steel "more energy efficient".
In the Autumn a parliamentary inquiry on the Future of Steel in the UK will hear evidence about:
- The role of Greybull Capital and other owners in supporting the UK steel industry as a whole
- The performance of Government in supporting the competitiveness of the UK steel industry through a sector deal and other policies
- The impact of Brexit, with or without a withdrawal agreement, for the steel sector
Richard Caddy admitted morale was low amongst the workforce due to the recent demise of British Steel, but he said the workers are “currently breaking production records” and “stepping up” because they “can’t afford to lose” the industry on Teesside.
‘All about British Steel’
Thirteen miles down the East Cleveland coast, a newly elected independent councillor tends to a vehicle at his garage.
Graham Cutler’s Cuts Tyres and Exhausts sits in the shadow of British Steel’s Special Profiles plant in Carlin How, near Skinningrove. Cllr Cutler explained to ITV News “it’s all about British Steel. The name on the building over the road explains it all, it just says this is ‘Special Profiles’ because it is, it’s special.”
He said it is “important” that the company is sold as one entity, rather than several deals for individual plants, because “Scunthorpe brings the steel up here and that’s the idea of British Steel. We don’t want steel from other countries. We want it from here in Britain. Keep it together, keep it strong, keep it firm and we’ve got a community that can do that. We really have.”
Graham Cutler’s concern is not just for the British Steel workers and the community, but for his own business too.
Down in the valley beneath the Special Profiles plant lies the quiet and quaint fishing village of Skinningrove. It is a village steeped in industrial history too, right back to the 1800s when the first iron mines were opened, to the early 20th Century when the village began steel production.
As we walk through the village towards the beach, we find Tracey Daniels serving up locally caught battered fish and chips at her Beach Road Fisheries chip shop.
Decrying the lack of support for her part of the region, she told ITV News “I think East Cleveland is the forgotten East Cleveland. We don’t seem to get any good news lately and I don’t believe that we’re helped enough. We’re forgotten. We’re forgotten.”
She told us British Steel workers often place large lunchtime orders during the working week and without that trade, it will have a negative impact on her business.
‘Getting out of hand’
One woman who is well connected in Carlin How and Skinningrove is Sue Sweeney. She runs the Carlin How community centre and speaks to British Steel workers and their families most days.
The uncertainty, she said, is “getting out of hand now”, adding “we’re hearing that many rumours, who's taking it over, who's not taking it over. A lot of them, they’re only young ones around here that work on there. It’s the only place to work, there’s nowhere else.”
It is the “wives that are worried”, Mrs Sweeney added. Yet through personal experience of past history, when the site has been in doubt before, she said somehow the workforce has always managed to maintain employment.