Unite has celebrated a major victory after it was announced today (July 28) that the Sheffield Forgemasters steel engineering plant would be brought into public hands in a £2.6m deal.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) bought out existing shareholders of the steel engineering firm, which mainly supplies defence-related steel products, such as specialist forgings and castings for submarine platforms and surface vessels, to clients such as Rolls-Royce, BAE Systems and Babcock.
Despite having a steady stream of defence and nuclear work, Sheffield Forgemasters had long struggled as a private company, and its main customers in the defence industry bailed out the firm with a £30m loan five years ago to keep the company afloat.
Unite has long campaigned for the nationalisation of the company because of its vital importance to the UK’s national security, and the MoD has now acknowledged the defence-critical nature of the firm’s work after its acquisition of the company.
The MoD said it would be investing £400m over the next decade in upgrading the factory and its equipment and infrastructure, and 700 jobs would also be secured as part of the deal, as well as the creation of new jobs in the future.
Commenting, Sheffield Forgemasters David Bond said, “Bringing the company under the ownership the MoD provides a more secure future. The MoD’s intention is to invest up to £400m over the next ten years to replace defence critical equipment and infrastructure.
“Sheffield Forgemasters and its shareholders are not able to fund an investment off this size and so this acquisition marks the culmination of a process, started two years ago, that enables to remain a secure and stable defence supplier for the long-term,” he added.
Bond also noted that while the majority of Sheffield Forgemasters’ work will be to secure defence outputs, the company will continue its commercial work and “will also look to exploit opportunities that may arise from the UK Government’s net zero carbon agenda, including Off-shore Wind projects and the Civil Nuclear market”.
Unite assistant general secretary for manufacturing Steve Turner hailed the news.
“This is the news we’ve waited two years to hear,” he said. “Unite has been engaged in a long battle with the Ministry of Defence and the UK government to protect UK steel supply to our defence and nuclear programmes so today’s news will be welcomed with a huge sigh of relief right across our steel communities.
“It brings to an end years of instability for this historic 215 year-old company, but is also a sign that government is maybe finally waking up to a crisis of its own making,” he added. “Critical infrastructure industries like steel function better in public hands and advanced economies like our own need to have stable, secure domestic steel production capabilities to protect our national security interests as well as to compete in global markets.
“But we only got to today’s good news because our members at Sheffield Forgemasters had the confidence and faith to invest in their plant’s future,” Turner continued. “We will now work with the government and company to ensure that those workers who put their hands in their own pockets to support the company do not lose out.
“We now look forward to a secure future for the plant which brings with it the guarantee for both today’s workforce and the thousands of young workers to follow the hope of a highly skilled job in a well-paid, unionised plant.”
Unite national officer for steel Harish Patel likewise praised the announcement, and the workers who made this victory possible.
“This is a long-awaited and hard-won win in our battle for survival,” he said. “This is good news for our members, ending the uncertainty which has hung over our highly skilled and committed members for far too long. We will now roll up our sleeves to work closely with the company to ensure that our members’ continued loyalty and commitment is rewarded as we move forward.”
By Hajera Blagg