Why are loads of British steel plants closing all at once?

By Del Crookes
Newsbeat reporter

Published
image copyrightGetty Images

Tata Steel is the latest company to announce that it's cutting jobs in Britain.

The Indian-owned firm has announced plans to get rid of 1,170 people at its plants in Scunthorpe and Lanarkshire.

It's the latest in a series of recent losses across the steel industry in the UK.

Caparo Industries is in trouble and the SSI steel plant at Redcar closed last month, with 2,200 jobs going.

Why are all these steel plants closing?

image copyrightReuters
image captionStainless steel sheets at a steel factory in Taiyuan, Shanxi province, China

The UK steel industry blames cheap Chinese imports for a collapse in steel prices.

It wants action from the government to save British steelmaking and stop Chinese manufacturers undercutting the market with cut-price metal.

Politicians and those in the industry call it "steel dumping".

Tata Steel is blaming collapsing prices, high electricity costs, green taxes on energy prices and the strong pound for its decision to cut back its UK operations.

Basically it's too expensive to make steel in the UK in a highly competitive world market.

How many jobs are at risk?

image copyrightHarry
image captionHarry used to work at the steelworks in Redcar on Teesside but has lost his job

Around 5,200 UK steelworkers face redundancy, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) is warning. That's one in six of all steel workers in the UK.

That number comes from the Thai-owned SSI going into liquidation with the loss of 2,200 jobs at Redcar, a plant which opened in 1917.

Tata has announced 1,170 job cuts in Scunthorpe and Lanarkshire from a total workforce of 4,500 people.

And the Unite Union says 1,700 jobs are threatened at Caparo Industries, which is owned by Labour Peer Lord Paul. It mainly has plants in the West Midlands.

What plants are at risk at Tata Steel?

image copyrightChristopher Furlong
image captionSteel industry demonstrator Neil Dawson protests about plans to close the Tata processing plant at Scunthorpe

The Dalzell plate rolling works in Motherwell and Clydebridge will both be mothballed (or kept for possible future use) with 270 jobs at risk.

These plants have been operating since 1872 and 1887 on the banks of the River Clyde and are the last major processors of steel in Scotland.

The other 900 jobs will go in Scunthorpe, in Lincolnshire.

image copyrightReuters
image captionA worker polishes steel coils at a factory in Dalian, China

720 jobs losses were also announced at factories in Rotherham, Stocksbridge and Wednesbury in July and in August Tata revealed that 250 redundancies were to be made in strip steel jobs at Llanwern, Newport.

What's the history of British steelmaking in a nutshell?

The British steel industry has been nationalised (owned by the government) and privatised (owned by a company) a number of times.

But by the 1970s, when it employed around 200,000 people, it was in trouble.

Increasing competition from around the world, outdated technology and high labour costs led to former Conservative prime minister Margaret Thatcher eventually privatising the industry in 1988 for good.

There are now under 30,000 people employed in UK steel.

What has British steel been used to make?

Steel from Tata's Scunthorpe plant has helped to build the Humber Bridge, parts of Heathrow Terminal 5 and the new Wembley Stadium as well as abroad on big projects such as the Petronas Towers in Malaysia.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionHeathrow's Terminal 5 was built using steel from Tata's Scunthorpe plant

Its steel also goes into smaller items such as paperclips and light bulbs.

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