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Clear out the ‘cowboys’ call

Unite welcomes MPs’ probe into steel industry amid British Steel collapse
Hajera Blagg, Monday, June 10th, 2019

Unite has welcomed a Parliamentary inquiry into the UK steel industry, prompted by the collapse of British Steel last month.


Announced on Saturday (June 8), the inquiry by the business select committee will investigate the role owners Greybull may have played in the company’s failure, as well as what the government could have done to prevent its collapse.


The committee plans to call both Greybull and the business secretary among others to give evidence in public.


The inquiry comes after Unite had made several calls to investigate Greybull and ensure they take responsibility for any mismanagement.


British Steel went into compulsory liquidation on May 22, which has put more than 5,000 jobs at risk and a further 20,000 jobs in the supply chain under threat.


As a new buyer is sought, the government is covering wages for the firm, but if a new buyer is not found, thousands of jobs losses are expected.


The Official Receiver which is overseeing British Steel’s liquidation has said it was making “good progress” in the search for a buyer and had already received 80 expressions of interest.


Labour MP business select committee chair Rachel Reeves said that it was “vital that the government and Official Receiver do all they can to secure a viable future for British Steel”.


“However, as a select committee we want to examine questions around the collapse of British Steel and the government’s approach, as well as about Greybull Capital’s stewardship and its commitments to investing in its future,” she said.


“More broadly, we want to examine the serious challenges facing the future of the steel sector in the UK,” Reeves added.


Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said the announcement was “a welcome move”.


“We need to look seriously at how a strategically important national industry has ended up in such a perilous, uncertain place, and then we need government to take the steps necessary to bring security to the sector,” he said.


“It is also right that Greybull’s role in the collapse of British Steel is thoroughly examined. That company has behaved deplorably,” he went on to say. “Its business model of piling debt onto the balance sheet while stripping cash and security from the business has plunged thousands of workers and their families into horrific uncertainty while they attempt to line their own pockets from a future sale.  This sort of cowboy behaviour needs to be run out of our economy once and for all.”


Turner noted that he had contacted Reeves, the committee chair, to register that the union will expect to make a full submission to their inquiry and to be called to give evidence.


“It is vital that our members’ experiences are documented in order to give the committee the fullest possible picture of the dreadful mismanagement of British Steel,” he said.


The announcement comes as reports have emerged that British Steel has placed orders for the delivery of raw materials for the next three months – in an indication that the government will continue to support the firm until a buyer is found.


On Sunday (June 9), the Telegraph reported that of the 80 firms that have expressed interest in buying British Steel, 60 are thought to be serious contenders.


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