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Programme highlights Thursday, 1 February, 2001, 15:56 GMT
Did 6,000 steel jobs have to go?
Wales plants hardest hit
Wales plants hardest hit
The steel company Corus has today given details of a restructuring plan that will mean the loss of 6,050 jobs in England and Wales.

That represents one in five of the workforce.

The announcement has produced a torrent of abuse, not just from workers, unions and local MPs - but from ministers in London and Cardiff.

The Corus management has been accused of secrecy and arrogance, in refusing to discuss its plans with the Government in advance.

Declining UK market

The company says it wanted to give the workforce the whole picture before entering into any wider negotiations.

The Chairman, Sir Brian Moffat, told The World At One that Corus was losing a million pounds a day and facing a declining UK market.

Corus chairman Sir Brian Moffat
Under fire: Corus chairman Sir Brian Moffat

Half the job losses will be in Wales, including 1340 at Llanwern and 780 at the Ebbw Vale tinplate plant - which will close altogether.

The workforce at Shotton in North Wales will be cut by more than 300, at Redcar in the North-East of England by 634, and at Teesside by 234.

Emergency meetings

The unions are holding emergency meetings, and are not ruling out the prospect of industrial action if Corus cannot be persuaded to scale back the cuts. But Michael Leahy, General Secretary of the Steel Union, ISTC, said he wasn't optimistic.

"We are the most productive steelworkers in the world and we don't deserve this," he said.


Their attitude has been like Victorian mill-owners rather than modern industrialists

Ashok Kumar MP

Ashok Kumar, who represents Middlesborough South and Cleveland East, has many constituents working at the Teesside plant. He condemned the Corus management as ruthless.

Victorian mill-owners

"Their attitude has been like Victorian mill-owners rather than modern industrialists," he said angrily.

There's been a similar reaction in South Wales, where Paul Flynn, the MP for Newport West, called Corus a 'fly-by-night company'.

"When you have a company that's developed a very strong greed instinct but a poorly developed social instinct, it's impossible to deal with."

Paul Flynn MP
Paul Flynn MP: "A fly-by-night company"

No choice

Job losses are bad news at any time, and worse with a general election in view. But electoral cycles don't necessarily coincide with business cycles - and outside the political sphere, many believe that Corus had little choice but to take drastic action.

Bob Jones - a steel expert at the specialist journal Metal Bulletin - told the World at One that the problems at Corus went back many years.

He said there was a widely-held view in the industry that there should have been restructuring in the mid-90s when the company was still profitable.

New strategy

Now, in a declining market and with intense worldwide competition, the problems were acute. There was little Governments could do, because European rules ruled out subsidies for struggling steel-makers.

Corus was formed from a merger between British Steel and a Dutch steel-maker in 1999. Ever since then, it's been known that rationalisation was likely: 4,000 jobs were lost across the group last summer, but it's taken until now for the full strategic plan to be drawn up.

Llanwern steel works
Llanwern steel works: closure will hit community hard

The man who made today's announcement, Sir Brian Moffat, stepped down as Chief Executive two years ago - but has subsequently been brought back to see through the new strategy.

Losing 1m a day

He has a reputation as a tough and single-minded operator in a highly competitive market: in a recent Observer profile, he said: "I am interested in making money, not steel".

Links

On the World at One, he defended both the rationalisation plan, and the timing of its announcement.

"The Government has tried to get the details of these plans before they were finalised and we were intent on telling our workforce first, rather than them being told about them through leakages," he said.

Climate of pessimism

But Sir Brian Moffat, who will have his work cut out attracting the sympathetic understanding of Government Ministers. One strong attack came from Paul Murphy at the Wales Office.

"Corus have been secretive," he said, "and their behaviour has added to the climate of pessimism surrounding the steel industry."

His semtiments were echoed by the Trade and Industry Secretary Stephen Byers. He said the announcement was a "bitter blow" to the workers and communities affected.

Think again

Mr Byers called on Corus to think again and work with the unions and the Government to find alternative solutions.

The question remains: is there really anything that Government could have done?

And are ministers simply expressing an understandable - but essentially futile - sense of outrage, not least because of the approaching election campaign?

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Corus chairman Sir Brian Moffat
"We were intent on telling our workforce first"
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