British Steel boss calls for quick Government support as he addresses national conference
British Steel deputy chief executive Paul Martin (left) with delegates from Scunthorpe at the steel sector conference in Redcar which was organised by the Community trade union
By Scunthorpe Telegraph | Posted: 13 Feb 2018
The Scunthorpe-based British Steel company is not yet sustainable despite making a profit in its first year, deputy chief executive Paul Martin has warned.
Speaking to a conference in Redcar organised by the trade union Community, Mr Martin said the company had enjoyed a "great" first year after taking over the long products business from Tata Steel but needed Government support to get to where it wants to be.
He told delegates: "We need the Government’s support and we need it quickly.
"We had a great first year as British Steel and have managed to turn the company round from one that was making significant losses.
"But this hasn’t come about easily and we're not yet where we want to be. We've survived but we're not yet sustainable and getting to that point requires all of us in this room to continue working together."
Mr Martin spoke about the sacrifices made by employees and the changes to ways of working which had been introduced to help British Steel during its first year.
He said: "All British Steel colleagues made sacrifices to give the business a fighting chance in year one. I'm delighted that our union colleagues at both Scunthorpe and here on Teesside have worked with us to introduce some new ways of working that benefit both the business and individuals.
The British Steel works in Scunthorpe
"We're all well aware of the potential skills shortage our industry faces due to the demographics of our aging workforce – and pension changes - without these skills our steel business will not succeed.
"We've worked collectively to make it easier for those reaching retirement to work flexibly by job sharing with colleagues.
"This means two older workers can choose to work part time, we employ someone new into the full time position left behind, and the older workers train the new blood and get him or her up to speed.
"Similarly where the standard notice period for our shift workers is one month, we've introduced ways of encouraging them to give the business more notice of the intention to retire.
"This gives us more time to train up other individuals and ensure they've learnt the vital skills before the older workers leave. Ensuring this knowledge gap is filled before individuals leave is vital to enabling the business to keep moving forward.
"We've also introduced manufacturing traineeships to the business which have been a huge success. Again this is about bringing fresh blood into the business but recognising that these new starters don’t have the same knowledge and skills as colleagues who have been employed in the business for 20, 30 or even 40 years.
Eighteen manufacturing trainees who started at British Steel last year, pictured on their first day at work on the Scunthorpe site
"Recruiting them on salaries that reflect their knowledge means we can also give them opportunities for growth and promotion. These are just a couple of examples of lots of the positive work that is ongoing in British Steel through the constructive relationships we have with our union colleagues."
And he said work between the steel sector and the Government was ongoing but called for more clarity from Westminster on large projects which could be beneficial to British industry.
He said: "I’m pleased that as a sector we’re also continuing to work with Government and I'm delighted our executive chairman Roland Junck is leading that work on behalf of all the steel chief executives.
"Our business is ideally placed to benefit from many large public procurement projects, but we need follow up. We need to know where we stand on these – we need policies that are put into practice and deliver for the benefit of British industry, and UK tax-payers, which we all are.
"Similarly we can play a vital role in the HS2 project – not just in terms of the rail track that will be needed but also the huge infrastructure that it will entail. Overhead gantries, station platforms, bridges – all pieces of the puzzle where steel from here on Teesside could play a vital part.
"While we continue to see progress in many areas we must continue to recognise the steel industry is still a tough place to be.
British Steel deputy chief executive Paul Martin
"We’re working in harsh environments, that have suffered years and years of underinvestment and now we need to catch up with our competitors if we’re to have any chance of succeeding in the global market place.
"Succeeding requires determination and focus, it needs us to be entrepreneurs and leaders.
"We can no longer keep doing things the way we’ve always done them. Collaboration is key as we move forward.
"Further success for British Steel and for our steel industry as a whole will require engagement from our employees, a partnership approach to working with our union colleagues and support from our external stakeholders including our customers, our suppliers and the Government.
"The steel industry will only become sustainable if these parties work together and deliver."