His Royal Highness, The Prince of Wales, will today (February 16th) mark a major milestone in the revival of Britain’s steel industry when he formally reignites the iconic N-Furnace at Liberty Speciality Steels in Rotherham, South Yorkshire.
The restart of the electric arc furnace, which was mothballed by previous owners during the steel crisis two and a half years ago, is part of a multi-million-pound investment by the Liberty House Group – a member of the GFG Alliance - that is creating 300 new jobs at Rotherham and its sister plant in Stocksbridge, as well as many hundreds more across the country.
The 800,000-tonne-a-year furnace, which turns scrap metal into specialised steels for uses such as vehicle gearboxes or aircraft landing gear, will now play a pivotal role in Liberty’s overall GREENSTEEL strategy, designed to usher in a cleaner and more competitive era for the industry in the UK.
During a visit to the 2,000-worker business, Prince Charles will be briefed by GFG executive chairman, Sanjeev Gupta, on progress towards the Alliance’s vision for an industrial revival based on renewable energy, metal recycling and integration of the supply chain.
The Royal visitor will also meet several young people who will form part of a new generation of skilled workers for the steel sector and wider industry.
These include Liberty apprentices and graduate recruits as well as Industrial Cadets from local schools whom the company supports to develop their knowledge and experience of industry, with a view to building careers in metals, manufacturing or engineering. The Prince of Wales inspired the establishment of the nationwide Industrial Cadet programme seven years ago, following a visit to see the steel industry on Teesside.
The Liberty Group has a strong commitment to developing young people’s skills. Its Speciality Steels business alone is recruiting a dozen graduates and 20 apprentices this year to train in engineering, technical and support roles. The company delivers bespoke training at the dedicated apprentice centre it runs in collaboration with Sheffield College on its Stocksbridge site.
The highlight of today’s Royal visit will be the formal switch-on of N-Furnace, the larger of the Rotherham plant’s two electric arc furnaces, which was mothballed by previous owners in 2015 at the height of the steel crisis.
When it bought the business in May 2017, Liberty pledged to restart the furnace as part of an initial £20m investment plan to expand the Speciality operation and create an additional 300 jobs. Many hundreds more jobs are being created in the wider GFG group, which is Britain’s fastest-growing industrial employer, with 5,500 staff nationwide.
The switch-on marks the culmination of five months engineering work by a team of 35 people to repair and upgrade the equipment. It will triple Liberty’s capacity to melt scrap into liquid steel at Rotherham, making the company the largest steel recycler in the UK, with a capability to melt over 1.2m tonnes a year.
It also moves the business closer to its target of installing 5m tonnes of GREENSTEEL production capacity within five years. In addition, restarting N-Furnace will enable the Rotherham plant to double production on its adjacent bar mill to over 400,000 tonnes a year.
After reigniting the furnace, the Prince will move on to the adjacent Aldwark General Office at the plant, which has just been extensively renovated and re-opened as the new HQ for Liberty Steel UK, having previously lain empty for eight years. There, His Royal Highness will meet several young people who have recently joined the company as apprentices or graduate trainees.
He will also speak to teenagers from Bradfield School and Rotherham College who are taking part in the highly-respected Industrial Cadets programme. Since Prince Charles prompted the creation of the scheme in the North East, it has grown to become a flagship nationwide programme. Liberty Steel UK chief executive Jon Bolton is one of the founding directors and official ambassadors for Industrial Cadets. Liberty actively supports Industrial Cadets through a partnership between the GFG Foundation and the Engineering Development Trust. The GFG Foundation, a registered charity, was established by Mr Gupta and his wife Nicola.
Sanjeev Gupta, founder and executive chairman of Liberty House Group said: “Switching this furnace back on today, after it had lain idle for more than two years, is a pivotal moment in the revival of UK steelmaking and we are very pleased His Royal Highness is able to share this hugely symbolic milestone with us. The occasion makes a very powerful statement that steel does have a future in Britain and that is very good news for the whole of our manufacturing and engineering sector.”