Last of Scotland’s steel industry faces meltdown

THE future of Scotland’s steel industry is hanging by a thread after it emerged the country’s last two major plants are facing the axe next week.

Tata's Dalzell Steel Mill in Motherwell. Picture: TSPL
Tata's Dalzell Steel Mill in Motherwell. Picture: TSPL

About 400 jobs are believed to be at risk at Tata’s two plants in Motherwell and Cambuslang as the firm struggles to deal with cheaper imports.

SNP ministers, at the party’s conference in Aberdeen, were making frantic efforts to save the industry in Scotland last night.

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Deputy First Minister John Swinney pledged that the Scottish Government would act to save the plants.

Tata Steel is expected to confirm next week that 1,200 jobs will be lost across the UK. Tata operates the Clydebridge plant in Cambuslang, where it employs about 70 people, with the remainder of its Scottish workforce based at its Dalzell plate rolling works in Motherwell which employs about 300.

The two Scottish plants are expected to close with the firm also expected to cut jobs at its facility in Scunthorpe. Union leaders have called on the government to act to save the ­industry.

Mr Swinney said last night: “The Scottish Government will do everything we possibly can.

“We’ve been talking to the company for some time about their plans to potentially sell this division. We will work with the company to find secure way forward because we’re absolutely determined to ensure that we have a sustainable steel industry in the years to come.”

The finance secretary said ministers will continue to “explore all possible options to find a viable future for the company’s sites in Scotland”.

The steel industry is facing cut-throat global competition, with China in particular dumping cheap imports in the UK. Tata Steel announced the potential sale of its long products division last year. Mr Swinney said agencies have been in constant contact with Tata Steel and unions.

A Tata spokesman said: “We’ve been talking about the challenges we’re facing in the UK for many months – surging imports, compounded by the strong pound and uncompetitive policy costs. We’ve made a number of structural changes to our UK business over the last months and years to make us more competitive. Like all companies we continue to review the performance of our business.”

Tata had been in talks for more than a year about selling the Scunthorpe plant to the Geneva-based Klesch Group until they collapsed in June.

It is the second blow to the UK steel industry in the past week, following SSI’s decision to close its blast furnace and coke ovens in Redcar, with the loss of about 2,200 jobs.

If the Scottish plants do close, it would mark the end of a once-proud steel making tradition in the country which once employed thousands of men. The death knell had sounded with the closure of the Ravenscraig plant in Motherwell in 1992 which had employed 13,000 workers at its peak.

Tony Burke, assistant general secretary of the Unite union last night called for “urgent action” from the government to support steelmaking in the UK.

“If the government is serious about rebalancing the economy then it needs to take action against the dumping of cheap Chinese imports and support an industry which is being hammered by high energy costs,” he said.

The news of the job losses comes after it emerged earlier this week that unemployment soared by more than 18,000 in Scotland in recent months.

STUC Boss Graham Smith said: “We have 400 workers and their families and communities in Lanarkshire facing a high degree of uncertainty.

“We need the company to give us some clarity about its intentions and we will be seeking early discussion with the Scottish Government. There are challenging market conditions that we’re aware of but we need to do everything we possibly can.”