“Save our steel” was the cry outside British Steel in Scunthorpe this morning as campaigners gathered to show their support for workers and the site, which they described as “the heart of the town”.
The company entered insolvency yesterday after a breakdown in rescue talks between the government and owner Greybull Capital, who blamed uncertainty over Brexit for its recent troubles.
Around 5,000 jobs are at risk at the firm, as well as 20,000 in its supply chain, as the search for a buyer started.
Campaigners said the town would be “devastated” without the works and called on the government to do more to save the site.
Outside the main gate to British Steel on Brigg Road, people gathered from 6.30am in the morning to greet steelworkers heading in on the morning shift.
More are expected to show up outside the entrance this evening during the late shift.
British Steel troubles
Until 2016, Tata Steel owned the steelworks in the town.
India’s Tata conglomerate entered the UK steel market in 2010 under the renamed Tata Steel Europe.
Six years later, the Scunthorpe long products division was sold to private equity firm, Greybull Capital for £1.
Greybull rebranded the company British Steel and saw a rapid turnaround to reach profitability.
But, the firm has struggled in recent months and sought a £120 million loan from the government at the start of May in order to meet its carbon emissions bill from the European Union.
Greybull has blamed the company’s troubles partly on Brexit-related issues, such as a slump in European orders, which the firm said has dealt “additional blows” and proved to be “insurmountable”.
A weaker pound has also proved to be a struggle for British Steel since the referendum.
After a breakdown in rescue talks between Greybull and the government, the company has now entered an insolvency process.
The government’s official receiver has taken control of the firm as the search for a buyer has begun.
“Heart of the town”
Stuart Mow, a self-employed window cleaner who organised the demonstration outside British Steel, said the town would not be able to function without the steelworks.
“It really is the heart of the town,” he said.
“In the same way that the heart in the body helps all the other organs function, everything that is around the steelworks is partly because of the steelworks.
“It really is the life of the town and if it goes then the town dies.”
Meanwhile, Glyn Williams, a Labour town councillor in Bottesford and former employee on the works for 40 years, said that Brexit has caused “a lot of uncertainty”.
“It’s not just the steel industry, it’s right across the place,” he said.
“People have been holding back investments and that has had an impact.
“It has to have had an impact, anyone who says it hasn’t is fooling themselves.”
But, Mr Williams said he was “hopeful” that a company will come in to buy British Steel.
“I’m always a positive sort of guy,” he said.
“I do believe a company will come through, it is a profitable business.”
Campaigners are expected to gather throughout the day outside British Steel to coincide with steelworker shifts.
Paul McCartan, a local Labour campaigner and town councillor, said he and others would “continue to support workers”.
“The steelworks is under threat and it’s a huge part of Scunthorpe and North Lincolnshire,” he said.
“If this goes under, then the whole of the region goes under.
“We’re here to support the workers and to tell them ‘you’re not alone and North Lincolnshire and Scunthorpe is behind you’.”
What next for British Steel?
British Steel is now in the hands of the government’s official receiver, David Chapman, on behalf of the Insolvency Service, because its shareholders and the government were not able to, or would not, support the business.
The company will continue to trade as normal while it goes through compulsory liquidation.
No redundancies have been announced, but staff have been paid for May.
In a statement, Scunthorpe’s MP, Nic Dakin, said it was important that the business survives.
“It’s in the public interest and in the interests of taxpayers to ensure this business survives,” he said.
“Government must take the necessary steps to ensure its future.”
Conservative leader of North Lincolnshire Council Rob Waltham has said the authority would do as much as it could to support those affected by yesterday’s news.
He added that the he would oversee a British Steel taskforce to provide “much stability as we can in these uncertain times”.
Leader of the Labour opposition and ex-steelworker, Len Foster, said a “long term strategy” was needed for the firm.
“We now look to the future and hope that the official receiver has a long-term strategy which includes investment and further job opportunities across the whole site and we would willingly offer our assistance in any discussions going forward,” he said.
“The debacle that is Brexit has been brought into the blame arena and quite obviously, the protracted situation has not helped.”
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