Up to 2,000 jobs at risk as British Steel plans to close furnaces

British Steel is planning to shut its blast furnaces in Scunthorpe, putting as many as 2,000 jobs at risk.

The business, which is owned by China’s Jingye Group, wants to replace the blast furnaces with two electric arc furnaces – one at Scunthorpe and one at Teesside.

Construction is expected to take between two and three years.

British Steel said it wants to turn the firm into a “green and sustainable company” but unions estimate the changes could result in the loss of 1,500 to 2,000 jobs, mainly at Scunthorpe.

Sources at the Government’s Department for Business told the BBC the proposals are part of a plan, involving a package of taxpayer support of up to £500m for British Steel which mirrors a package agreed for rival Tata.

Tata confirmed earlier this year it would close its two blast furnaces in Port Talbot and replace them with electric arc furnaces, with an expected loss of up to 3,000 jobs.

Making steel using coke-fuelled blast furnaces generates more greenhouse gases and needs more manpower.

Electric arc furnaces can repurpose scrap steel using power generated by renewables. But the end product is not the same grade of steel and is not suitable for all industrial uses.

A British Steel spokesman told the BBC that the company is committed to “providing long-term, skilled and well-paid careers for thousands of employees and many more in our supply chains.”

TUC General Secretary Paul Nowak said: “British Steel must halt these plans and get around the table with unions.

“Closing down the blast furnaces at the Scunthorpe plant would have a devastating impact on staff and the local community.

“Workers won’t stand back and watch as Britain’s steel industry is dismantled in real time.

“The Conservatives are presenting a false choice. Other countries have shown that it is possible to transition to zero-carbon steel making and protect good steel-making jobs for the future.

“We can do the same here. The UK badly needs a Biden-style industrial and climate plan.”

Community Union general secretary, Roy Rickhuss, added: “We are deeply concerned by British Steel’s plans for an electric arc furnace (EAF)-only approach at Scunthorpe and Teesside, and it is vital a meaningful consultation takes place to assess all the options to secure the future of steelmaking.

“Were they to be realised the plans that British Steel has announced, combined with Tata Steel’s plans, would leave the UK unable to make steel from raw materials and dangerously exposed to international markets.

“Community firmly believes the blast furnaces continue to be vital in any responsible transition to green steelmaking.

“Even the Government’s own backbenchers recognise that an EAF-only approach is dangerous and foolhardy, with the Conservative Northern Research Group only this weekend urging the Prime Minister to intervene to keep the blast furnaces open.

“All options for decarbonisation must remain on the table, and Community will do whatever it takes to protect our members interests.”