Steel firm Liberty planning 355 job losses in Yorkshire and Wales

By Alan Jones, PA Industrial Correspondent

A steel company has announced plans to cut 355 jobs in response to “challenging” market conditions and a lingering reduction in demand for UK steel products.

Liberty Steel Group said it will now consult with unions over a proposal to axe around 250 jobs at its plant in Stocksbridge, South Yorkshire, around 70 in Newport, South Wales, and a handful at other sites.

The company said the move followed a review of its UK business, leading to a decision to reduce its workforce at certain plants to match sustainable production forecasts.

Chief executive Cornelius Louwrens said: “Liberty has taken enormous strides in improving the performance of the steel mills it has acquired over the last six years. We’ve re-started mothballed plants and demonstrated a commitment to invest in the UK.

“Unfortunately, the steel industry in the UK is facing challenging conditions and we have made the difficult decision that there is a need to reduce the workforce at a handful of locations, in order to make them sustainable for the long-term.

“It has always been our intention, and always will be, to avoid compulsory redundancies.”

The firm will offer voluntary redundancy to workers at the affected sites, and has set up a new company, GFG Workforce Solutions, to enable employees hit by the cutback to remain within the GFG Alliance, a group of companies which includes Liberty.

Ross Murdoch, national officer of the GMB union, said: “Once again we have more bad news for the UK steel industry. A country that doesn’t produce its own steel for key infrastructure projects and shipbuilding is a country that’s destined to fail.

“Our steelworkers deserve better than this. The Government urgently needs to intervene and ensure steel companies in the UK receive the backing they have long called for on energy costs and business rates.

The plaque unveiled by the Prince of Wales during his visit to Liberty Speciality Steels in South Yorkshire (PA)

“GMB will of course engage with the company to mitigate any losses for our members and will continue to campaign with our sister steel trade unions to bring about the support and investment required.”

Roy Rickhuss, general secretary of the Community union, said: “News of more steel industry job cuts is concerning and this will be a worrying time for many steelworkers and their families in South Yorkshire and South Wales.

“Today’s announcement shows yet again that challenges remain for the UK’s steel industry and that is why we reiterate our call on Government to meet with unions and employers in the industry to discuss action on the outstanding issues which we have been campaigning on for some time, such as energy costs, business rates and procurement.

“We will be sitting down with Liberty Steel to look at their plans in detail and examine the rationale behind these proposals.

“In the meantime, we recognise that the company has indicated its intention to achieve any reductions through voluntary redundancy – we will be holding them to that commitment.”

Unite national officer for steel Harish Patel said: “This is a bitter blow for the workers concerned and Unite will be ensuring that every opportunity to minimise job losses is properly explored and the commitment to only consider voluntary redundancies is fully honoured.

“The announcement of redundancies inevitably creates further uncertainty in the steel industry and makes it more imperative that the Government provides genuine and tangible commitments to the UK steel industry, to ensure that it can compete on a level playing field on the global stage.”

Gill Furniss, shadow minister for steel, said: “This is devastating for those who have lost their jobs at Liberty Steel in South Wales and South Yorkshire.

“The UK steel industry has faced countless challenges and under the Tory Government they have received little to no help.

“The time for excuses is over. The Prime Minister must act now to save the UK steel sector and prevent further job losses.

“Labour promised in its manifesto to protect the long-term future of our steel sector by ensuring public procurement, tackling industrial energy prices, investing in research and development and upgrading existing production sites.”