Tata Steel boss urged to end uncertainty over sale

19 July 2016 ...Tour of Tata Steel  in Rotherham and Stocksbridge to view the high standard of steel produced those sites. Picture Scott Merrylees
19 July 2016 ...Tour of Tata Steel in Rotherham and Stocksbridge to view the high standard of steel produced those sites. Picture Scott Merrylees

A steelworkers’ union and Rotherham MP have urged Tata to end the uncertainty over the sale of its speciality steels operations in South Yorkshire.

John Healey said 2,000 workers and their families were in limbo and it was time for Tata boss Bimlendra Jha to make a decision.

In a letter to the Tata chief executive, Mr Healey criticised the lack of progress over the future of the Rotherham and Stocksbridge plants, and accused the firm of ‘dragging its feet’

Roy Rickhuss, general secretary of Community, called on Tata to ,come clean, on the state of the sales process.

Just two firms are still in the race to buy Speciality Steels: Albion Steel, a start-up headed by Forgemasters chairman Tony Pedder, and international steel company Liberty House Group.

It continues despite Tata pausing the sale of its entire loss-making UK operations following an offer of financial assistance from the Government and a rise in steel prices.

Mr Healey wrote: “It seems that the sale of Speciality Steels is on go-slow, while the 2000-strong workforce are left in limbo and in the dark. Local steelworkers and their families simply don’t know where they stand, or what the future holds.

“For those employees in the Rotherham plant in particular this is adding to the many months of anxiety and uncertainty the company has put them through this year. As you know, over 700 posts were cut during the first three months of 2016, the vast majority at Aldwarke. Then, just as this redundancy programme was completed in March, the shock announcement was made in Mumbai that Tata was set to sell its entire UK steel making operations. When this stalled, and moves to forge a new strategic alliance with ThyssenKrupp were revealed, Tata launched the sale of Specialty Steels as a separate business.’

Roy Rickhuss said: “Community will not allow Speciality Steels to become the forgotten part of the steel crisis. With over 2,000 direct employees and many thousands more in the local supply chain, this business is of huge importance to the South Yorkshire region.

“Community has always said that we will play our part as a responsible stakeholder in helping safeguard the future of the business, but having committed to involve the trade unions in the sales process, Tata have yet to share details of potential buyers. Speciality Steels has every chance of a bright, profitable future, but this will only be possible if Tata ensure a new owner is able to invest in the business and build a positive relationship with the workforce.

“The months of uncertainty and delays must end today. Tata must come clean about the state of the sales process and fully involve the trade unions in helping to build a new future for this vital industry and its highly skilled workers.”

Speciality Steels employs 1,800 including 860 in Stocksbridge, 750 at Thrybergh and 110 in Brinsworth, Rotherham. It also has a unit in Hartlepool.

Some 70 per cent of business is export, half into Europe, on turnover of £300m. It makes aerospace, automotive and oil and gas products.

A Tata Steel spokesman said: “Whenever we have significant news we always seek to tell our employees first. We also communicate regularly with our employees about issues which could affect them including through briefings, newsletters.

“We strive to maintain strong relationships with all our key stakeholders, including local MPs, around our UK sites. We have offered to meet John Healey MP to discuss the points in his letter.

“Discussions have been ongoing with a number of interested parties regarding the sales process of our Speciality Steels business since our announcement in July. Bidders have been given the opportunity to meet with management and conduct site visits, as well as having access to information to assist in performing due diligence.

“The process is ongoing and we will provide a further update at the appropriate point.”