Scunthorpe steelworks sale is bittersweet

Celebrations at Jingye takeover of steelworks mixed with sadness over job losses

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The town of Scunthorpe came into existence in the mid-Nineteenth Century because of its proximity to a seam of iron ore that was used to create iron and steel.


The steelworks’ dominant place in the town’s economy and history means there’s a seam of iron running through the townsfolk as well.


“Everybody has a connection to the steelworks. The steel industry came first and the town came after. Scunthorpe was built on the success of the steel industry,” said Unite convenor and third generation steel worker Martin Foster.


Which is why despite the purchase of, and promised £1.3bn investment in, the steelworks by Chinese firm Jingye, there is sadness that 450 workers were left out in the cold when the sale went through on Monday (9 March).


Unfortunately, because British Steel was placed under the control of the UK Insolvency Service last year, there was no opportunity for Unite or any union to step in and fight for their jobs.


“The process of who stayed and who didn’t, we had no involvement in that whatsoever and it was particularly painful to stand there and watch good people lose their jobs. It’s been really heart breaking,” said Foster.


“We are offering support, help and advice on where to go, what to do, how to do it, what courses are on offer. We’re contacting members individually to let them know what we can do.


“Although it’s good news that we’ve secured 3,000 jobs and the future of the town and local community, it kind of feels like a hollow victory because of the number of people who’ve been forced out the door as a result of it. That’s particularly sad.”


Part of that frustration was because Unite was heavily involved in persuading the government to keep the steelworks going while a buyer was found, as well as securing a sale.


“We’ve had a lot of involvement in every sort of forum that was set up to deal with it,” explained Foster.


Despite the purchase and investment plans, more needs to be done to ensure the steelworks’ long-term future.


“Part of Jingye’s business plan is to expand further into the UK market. If they follow through with their plan it will be a complete game changer for us. It’ll put us up there with the top few steelmakers in Europe, if not the world,” said Foster.


“We expect that the government will pave the way for that to happen. To do something that will give us a fairer crack of the whip when it comes to UK infrastructure projects like HS2 and Hinkley Point.


“These are big projects that we need an in on. Up to now we’ve found it really difficult. I would hope the government will see the sense in doing that. As a major UK steel producer, we should be playing a big part in projects like HS2.”

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