Steelworkers vote to accept Tata deal – what are the next steps for the industry?

17 February 2017

Article by Gareth Thomas,  National Assembly for Wales Research Service

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Picture showing Port Talbot Steelworks

Image from Flickr by Ben Salter. Licensed under Creative Commons.

On 15 February 2017, trade union members from Community, UNITE and GMB all voted to accept the deal offered by Tata Steel relating to pensions, future investment and job security.  The three trade unions had recommended that workers accept the deal, while recognising the difficult decision workers would have to make on their pensions.  Tata have said that work continues with the unions and others to build a secure future for the industry.

What is in the deal?

The UNITE trade union has set out details of the proposal that union members were balloted on, which included:

  • Closing the British Steel Pension Scheme to future accrual on 31 March 2017 and introducing a Defined Contributions Pension Scheme. Additional one-off payments to pension scheme employee members aged 50+ who retire between 60 and 64 will also be available in some circumstances.
  • Commitment to run 2 blast furnaces at Port Talbot until at least 2021, and proposed investment in Blast Furnace 5 to extend its lifespan beyond 2021.
  • Commitment to an investment plan which proposes £1 billion of investment over 10 years, conditional on Tata Steel UK making at least £200 million in earnings before tax, interest, debt and amortisation (EBITDA) per year.
  • Protection against compulsory redundancies until 2021, equivalent to the commitment given to the workforce at Tata’s IJmuiden plant in the Netherlands.

Tata will also seek to restructure its UK Profit Bonus, and introduce new rates and conditions for new employees. It also aims to make £13 million of employment cost savings across the UK.

How have the Welsh and UK Governments invested in the steel industry and steelmaking communities?

The previous Welsh Government offered Tata a package of over £60 million, with conditions attached, prior to the announcement on the sale of its UK assets in March 2016, including investment in environmental improvements and developing the galvanising line at Port Talbot. Following the vote, the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure said that he hopes to be able to bring forward announcements shortly on these projects.

The Welsh Government also established the Port Talbot Waterfront Enterprise Zone in response to the job losses announced in January 2016. The UK Government also agreed to fund Enhanced Capital Allowances for three sites within the Enterprise Zone, which enable businesses to claim a 100% first year allowance for the capital cost of new investment in plant and equipment.

In December 2016, the Welsh Government agreed to contribute £8 million towards a total investment of £18 million in improvements to the Port Talbot power plant and setting up a R&D base in Swansea. In February 2017, it contributed funding of £1.6 million towards environmental improvements at Celsa Steel in Cardiff, and £1.2 million for investment in three other companies in the industry.

In December 2016 the Welsh Government agreed to provide £4 million to Tata to match its investment in training staff and managers across Wales. The Welsh Government’s ReAct redundancy support scheme has assisted workers from Tata and supply-chain companies.

The UK Government has provided assistance to mitigate high electricity prices and the impact of climate change policy. Over the two compensation schemes that have been introduced, the UK Government has provided over £100 million in compensation to the steel industry.

Has this support addressed the key challenges the industry faces, and what further action is needed?

In October 2015, the steel industry identified five areas where action could be taken to address the challenges it faces in the longer term. UK Steel says that of these, one has been actioned fully, three partially and one not at all. In contrast, the UK Government considers it has addressed four of these actions.

On energy prices, while the steel industry welcomed the UK Government’s package of support, electricity prices for UK producers remain considerably higher than those for European competitors. UK Steel highlight a differential of £17 per Mega Watt Hour between UK and German producers, impacting on investment decisions between steelworks in different countries.

Action around the ‘dumping’ of steel will be a key area where the UK Government will need to make decisions after the UK leaves the EU, as it will need to establish trade defence measures. There has been concern that previous EU anti-dumping tariffs have not been high enough, and that the UK Government has not supported the lifting of the ‘lesser duty’ rule by the EU. The sector is concerned about the potential for tariffs being imposed after the UK leaves the EU.  While WTO tariffs on steel products are 2%, tariffs such as the 10% on the automotive industry are of greater concern.

On business rates, the steel industry has called for plant and machinery to be exempt from business rates bills.  UK Steel found that UK companies pay five to ten times more business rates than producers in France and Germany. The Welsh Government has not taken this forward, as they consider it complicated to operate and have preferred to support the industry in other ways.  However, the recent business rates revaluation has seen a fall in the average rateable values of steelworks in Wales.  UK Steel have noted that under the Welsh Government’s transitional relief scheme steelworks will not have business rates bills reductions capped as will happen in England.

Both governments have also taken action on procurement.  The Welsh and UK Governments have published infrastructure pipelines of which projects will require steel. Additionally, the Welsh Government has changed its transport contracts to require that ‘dumped’ steel is not used.  The UK Government has also introduced procurement measures, including requiring central government departments to consider economic and social impacts of the steel they source. Key areas of future action for the steel industry include monitoring compliance with guidance, and developing transparent reporting mechanisms.

In May 2016, Swansea University called for backing for a new proposal for a national innovation and technology centre for steel.  The IPPR have argued that foundation industries such as steel should be better integrated into the Catapult networks, which are designed to boost innovation in key sectors across the UK.

Looking forward, while the UK Government’s proposals for an industrial strategy have been seen by some as not sufficiently considering steel, the UK Government and the steel industry are discussing the potential for a ‘sector deal’ for the industry, which is supported by the Welsh Government.  Sectors will develop plans to boost productivity.  The UK Government could then assist in a number of ways, including skills and training policy, changes to regulation, helping address barriers to trade and supporting the creation of new sectoral institutions.

New Publication: The steel industry: an in-depth look

19 May 2016

National Assembly for Wales Research Service

The challenges facing the steel industry have been one of the most high-profile issues of 2016. This paper sets out a summary of the industry in Wales and the UK, recent developments with the Tata Steel sites and the key pressures facing the industry.

The steel industry: an in-depth look (PDF, 1MB)


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The future of the steel industry

19 May 2016

Article by Gareth Thomas, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

This article is taken from ‘Key issues for the Fifth Assembly’, published on 12 May 2016.

Developments in the steel industry have been one of the most high profile political issues of 2016. What are the key pressures facing the industry and how might the new Welsh Government help it secure a sustainable long-term future?

The decision by Tata Steel in March 2016 to put its UK assets up for sale was the latest development in a ‘perfect storm’ of recent challenges for the steel industry in both Wales and the UK.

As well as the Port Talbot steelworks, Tata has a number of other operations in Wales, at Llanwern, the Orb in Newport, Shotton and Trostre near Llanelli. Other producers with Welsh operations include Celsa Steel and Liberty House Steel UK. The iron and steel industries employed 6,420 people across Wales in 2015, with the primary steel industry and its supply chain accounting for close to 20,000 jobs.

The Welsh Economy Research Unit at Cardiff University found that the total economic impact of Tata was £3.2 billion in Wales per year, with a supported gross value added of £1.6 billion. Tata contributes £200 million in wages into the Welsh economy each year, and each job at Tata supports an additional 1.22 jobs throughout the Welsh economy.

steel Map

What are the options for securing the future of the Tata Steel plants?

Reaching a conditional sale agreement for the Tata plant in Scunthorpe in April 2016 took nine months, and both UK and Welsh Governments have urged Tata to allow sufficient time for a sale to take place. In March 2016, the Scottish Government purchased two Tata steel plants before selling them on to Liberty Steel the same day.

Potential options for the Tata sites include the sale of all plants; management buyouts of certain sites; nationalisation; co-investment between the public and private sectors; temporary ‘mothballing’ of sites in their current condition to enable future reopening; or closure.

The previous Welsh Government offered Tata a package of over £60 million, which included funding for environmental products and skills and training, and a commercial loan to develop a galvanising line for steel coating. It also discussed co-investing in a power plant at the Port Talbot works, which would lead to lower energy costs and greater energy efficiency.

Given the scale of the investment needed across the Tata plants, UK Government assistance will also be required. The UK Government has indicated that it would consider co-investing with a buyer on commercial terms, including potentially taking on some of the debts associated with the plants. Other areas for potential UK Government support include the power supply, the British Steel Pension Scheme and infrastructure.

How can the key challenges facing the sector be addressed?

Of the industry’s five ‘key asks’ at the start of the crisis, four remain major concerns for the sector. Some of these are in non-devolved areas, meaning that the new Welsh Government will need to work in partnership to address these issues.

What is dumping, and what measures are currently used to combat it?

Dumping is where the export price of a product such as steel is lower than the exporter’s home market price, or perhaps even lower than cost price. The EU investigates these cases, and can impose tariffs that are based on the dumping margin unless a lower tariff would remove the injury caused to EU producers. This is known as the ‘lesser duty’ rule

The ‘dumping’ of steel is dealt with at EU level, and concerns centre on the global competitiveness of European steel against exports from China and Russia. The European Commission launched proposals to address these challenges in March 2016, including reducing the length of time that anti-dumping investigations take and changing the way that anti-dumping tariffs are calculated in certain circumstances. A further issue is the impact that awarding Market Economy Status to China would have on action that could be taken against ‘dumping’.

Energy prices for UK steel producers are higher than other European nations, despite the UK Government introducing compensation for energy intensive industries. While steel producers have welcomed the compensation package, they are still paying significantly more for electricity than European competitors and would like further action taken.

Business rates paid by UK producers are said to be between five and ten times higher than in other European nations. In Wales, powers over business rates are wholly devolved to the Welsh Government. The sector has called for the removal of plant and machinery from business rates bills, which are seen as a disincentive to invest. At the end of the Fourth Assembly, the previous Welsh Government was still considering how to address this issue across the whole of the manufacturing industry in Wales.

The steel industry also wants the Welsh public sector and the Welsh and UK Governments to use procurement for major infrastructure projects to better support UK steel. The previous Welsh Government considered that its procurement policies support the principles of the Charter for Sustainable British Steel, although the industry has called for procurement policies to be implemented and monitored more closely. The Tata Taskforce, established by the previous Welsh Government, is developing a list of infrastructure projects that could help the steel industry, and looking at how major capital projects are setting criteria for steel procurement.

The steel industry has also cited Welsh and UK Government co-investment in research and development as ways to take the steel sector forward.

The decisions taken by the Welsh and UK Governments will affect both the immediate and long-term future of steel. With thousands of jobs and the future of an industry at stake, working with partners to relieve the pressures faced by the sector will be one of the first major challenges for the new Welsh Government.

Since this article was produced for the hard copy Key Issues publication, there have been a number of developments:

  • The UK Government has provided further details of potential support available to the successful buyer, including the possibility of it taking an equity stake of up to 25%;
  • Tata has announced that seven bidders have reached the next stage of the bidding process.  These include Liberty Steel and Excalibur Steel UK, and are also rumoured to include Greybull Capital, JSW Steel and Nucor; and
  • The Welsh Government has confirmed that it has made an offer of financial support to the Excalibur Steel UK bid, although the value of this support is not yet known.  However, this is not a formal endorsement of the Excalibur bid as support is open to other bidders should they request it.

Key sources

Promoted by the National Assembly for Wales Commission, Cardiff Bay, Cardiff, CF99 1NA

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