Uncertainty is over – it’s a new beginning.
That was the message from the new owners of Hartlepool’s steel pipe mills that were threatened with closure not long ago.
Liberty Steel acquired the 42-inch and 84-inch steel mills that manufacture pipeline for the international oil and gas industry from Tata Steel in the summer.
Sanjeev Gupta, the executive chairman of GFG Alliance, Liberty’s parent company, visited the Brenda Road plant and promised a bright future.
Around 100 new workers will be employed in the next year as the plant significantly increases production by at least four times.
And Mr Gupta told the Mail there is the potential for more jobs as part of the company’s plan to restore the plant to full working production.
He said: “Uncertainty is over, this is a new beginning.
“It’s an exciting time. We will build this business, there’s no doubt about it.
“It will require hard work, there will be some challenges on the way, but the future is definitely bright.”
Production levels were badly hit during last year’s steel crisis and there was uncertainty for jobs while Tata looked for a buyer.
But Mr Gupta said the market is picking back up and he plans to make the Hartlepool plant a force on the international stage.
Output is set to increase to 80,000 tonnes a year from next year.
Liberty says its acquisition of the Hartlepool plant saved 140 jobs.
The group wants to restore the mills to full production of over 300,000 tonnes a year.
Mr Gupta added: “A few months ago the plant was almost shut, but already the first few steps are very exciting.
“We have a lot of interest from many partners across the world. We will see this plant grow quickly.
“With that will come a re-hiring of workforce from 150 at the moment. It will increase by at least 100 people next year and as production grows we will look to increase more and more.”
Management chiefs are developing a five-year plan to take the business forward.
James Annal, chief executive of Liberty Pipes Division, said: “This mill in my opinion is one of the best pipe mills in the world.
“There is nothing in the UK that compares with the type of technology we have.” He said although the mill had been through some difficult times, there had still been investment in new equipment to maintain its top reputation.
“We still have an intellectual property of people here in engineering, production, and operations that I honestly believe are the best in the world.”
Union officials welcomed the new owners’ plans and praised the workers for keeping the business going.
Michael Kay, head of multi unions on site, said: “For the past 18 months it has been incredibly difficult for workers here.
“It is credit to the workforce who have remained loyal to the mill and demonstrated it is our most important asset.
“We have the opportunity to look forward with Liberty Steel. We need to repay the faith that’s been shown in us by Liberty Steel and I think we can do that.”
Liberty one of the largest steel and engineering employers in the UK, with more than 4,000 workers at plants located across Britain.
Tata Steel still own a 20-inch tube mill at the same Hartlepool site, where 270 people work.
Optimism for the future.
Politicians and a Hartlepool college chief spoke of their optimism for the future and Liberty Steel’s ambitious plans.
Hartlepool ceremonial mayor Paul Beck said he was thrilled at plans to boost jobs and output at the Hartlepool mill after much uncertainty for workers.
Councillor Beck said: “I think this acquisition is so important for industry here in Hartlepool.
“It has taken a long time but with the work that has gone into it, I think it will encourage other businesses to look at Hartlepool as a safe place for their business.
“It will take time to increase productivity but I’m absolutely certain it will happen.
“It is a really positive outlook.”
Hartlepool College of Further Education has a five-year relationship with the site and currently has 12 apprentices with Liberty.
Principal Darren Hankey said: “From our point of view moving forward there are some ambitious plans for the mill and we want to be part of that making sure we get the right qualifications and apprentices coming through.” Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen also visited the site for yesterday’s event.
Mr Houchen said: “We’re very proud of our area’s long and distinguished steel heritage and I’m very pleased and relieved that these jobs and skills are being protected for the future.
“Liberty’s arrival has been a great boost for the area’s economy and we’re looking forward to more opportunities for local people and local businesses as a result of their investment.”