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  • Made in sheffield




    Made in Sheffield: Betrayal of the factory that forged our Empire

    It's that rare beast - a great British firm that still actually makes things. So why has Nick Clegg let the plug be pulled on a deal that could have made it a world-beater?

    Even in our blasé world of special effects and 3-D virtual reality, this grimy old shed is as awesome and spectacular as anything Hollywood can produce.
    It's a pretty big shed, actually - roughly the size of a middle-ranking international airport without windows. The semi-darkness periodically bursts into light as sheets of flame spew from the sides of furnaces the size of houses.
    The doors of another three-storey oven swing open and a miasma of heat literally makes my hair stand on end. I am a good 100 feet away but this furnace has been cooking 12-ton steel columns at 1,600 degrees all day.

    Molten steel columns are hoisted from the three-storey oven at Sheffield Forgemasters.

    The glow is so intense it's hard to look as these red-hot lumps are hoisted off to a hammer press the size of a brontosaurus which bashes them into parts for a Chinese power station.
    Why have I picked one of the hottest days of the year to walk inside a man-made volcano?
    This Old Testament scene of fire and thunder is the Heavy Forge at Sheffield Forgemasters, the place which makes Really Big Things That Make Other Big Things.
    It recently produced the biggest bit of steel ever cast in Europe - a 350-ton widget for a German steel mill which produces oil tankers.
    If this place had a motto, it would be: Think Big.

    Visit the South Machine Shop. At a quarter of a mile long, it is considerably larger than Harrods (and there is a north Machine Shop, too).



    Massive machines: The 10,000 tonne open die hydraulic press in the heavy forge. The sheer scale of the plant is breathtaking

    There are shiny tubes as far as the eye can see, all of them so secret that they cannot be photographed. Spare parts for a Trident submarine, apparently.
    This factory is not only a world leader in its specialist field. It is also the oldest steel producer on the planet.
    In any other industrial nation, it would be regarded as a national asset. But not Britain.
    In a move which has baffled even loyal supporters of the new coalition Government, Ministers have just cancelled an important partnership with this rare breed - a great British industrial success.
    An £80million Government loan which would enable Forgemasters to build a crucial new bit of kit has just been torn up - on the grounds that we can't afford it.

    Robbed of a bright future: The Government has cancelled a loan which would have put the Sheffield plant at the forefront of the industry

    No matter that hundreds of jobs and billions of pounds in exports will now go to the only other plant in the world capable of producing these components - Japan Steel Works.
    No matter that the decision leaves Britain at the back of a long queue of customers when the time comes to re-equip our own nuclear plants.
    No matter that £80 million, while a lot of money, is merely one quarter of the cost of the 2012 London Olympic swimming baths - or, if you prefer, four-and-a-half Jonathan Rosses.
    No matter, above all, that this was a loan - to be repaid with interest, not flushed away down another black hole of public sector ineptitude.
    So what on Earth has happened? And what does it tell us about the Government's commitment to businesses that actually make things, as opposed to those which shuffle around other people's money?



    Larger than Harrods: The South Machine Shop, at a quarter of a mile long, is enormous - and there is a North Machine Shop as well

    This company has been making steel for more than two centuries, ever since Edward Vickers found a new use for his Sheffield water mill in 1805.
    By 1865, the business had moved here to the vast River Don Works, producing much of the steel which built the British Empire.
    Come the start of World War II, this was the only place in Britain capable of producing the crankshafts for Spitfire and Lancaster engines. Victory was forged in these furnaces.
    But while other British industrial giants withered and died in the post-war battle for global trade, this one carried on. Vickers changed names and owners and went through nationalisation, privatisation and liquidation.
    But after a management buyout in 2005, it is now owned by the workforce. And it is booming.
    Its order books are full and £12 million of new machinery was recently opened by Prince Charles. It has just signed a £30 million contract with India and things are as bright as a red-hot girder.



    War effort: An example of the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine crankshaft made in Sheffield. The shafts were used in Spitfire fighters and Lancaster bombers during the Second World War. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wvYQ5YjFn1U

    But the management has spotted a crucial gap in the market. As the world turns to nuclear energy to reduce its carbon emissions and its dependence on other energy sources, a new generation of nuclear power stations is taking shape (30 are at the planning stage in America alone).
    All of them will need mammoth pressure vessels at the heart of their reactors. But only a handful of companies are certified by the global watchdog, ASME, to produce these parts. Sheffield Forgemasters is one of them.
    Demand for these crucial components should treble by 2020. Currently, there is only one Japanese plant which can build them and it cannot possibly cope with the demand.
    So, Sheffield Forgemasters spent two years planning how to raise £140 million to build a 15,000-ton press capable of producing these gigantic components.
    This was a suitably gargantuan project for a business with an estimated value of £40 million. But the nuclear stakes are colossal.
    Last edited by Kenny G; 10-18-2012, 05:38 PM.

  • #2
    Made in sheffield part 2



    Automated: Staff in the control room of the works' 4,000 tonne open die press oversee the manufacture of steel roll

    Once up and running, the new facility would employ another 180 people in Sheffield on top of the existing 800 workers (plus all the construction jobs involved). The company's exports would be up by £100 million a year.
    Private backers, including America's Westinghouse Corporation, came on board with a large part of the money. Yet there was no viable deal with the banks that did not involve losing control of the company.
    So, in its dying days, the old Labour Government came to the rescue. In March, the then Business Secretary, Lord Mandelson, descended on Sheffield to announce an £80 million loan.
    Needless to say, it looked very like a pre-election bung to 'Steel City'. Sheffield is an old Labour heartland where the Liberal Democrats - led by local MP Nick Clegg - have been making unwelcome progress in recent years.
    But few imagined that the new coalition Government would abandon such a promising scheme on the new deputy Prime Minister's doorstep.
    Mr Clegg's Sheffield Hallam constituency is a couple of miles from the River Don Works and many of his constituents work there.
    However, just two weeks ago, the new Treasury team scrapped the loan as part of a £12 billion cull of Gordon Brown' s spending commitments.



    Early beginnings: The Bessemer converter casting pit at Yorkshire Steel and Iron Works at Penistone in 1940

    Just weeks earlier, Mr Clegg had been on the steps of City Hall telling an election rally how his party would do wonders for Sheffield.
    Now, his Government was pulling the plug on the biggest deal in town. So much for all that guff about 'new politics'.
    At first, Mr Clegg suggested that the loan had been a Labour election bribe (he called it 'a calculated ploy').
    Then, he suggested that the directors had only sought the loan 'because they didn't want to dilute their own shareholding in the company.'
    In fact, the workforce had already agreed to give up 40 per cent of the business but could not surrender overall control.
    The Cabinet, however, stood firm. Prime Minister David Cameron described the loan as 'not very well thought-through', while the new (Lib-Dem) Business Secretary Vince Cable declared: 'The Government cannot simply keep on writing out cheques.'
    None of this would matter if Forgemasters was a clapped-out industrial basket case like Rover, which finally conked out in 2005 after years of eye-watering losses.
    But, as everyone agrees, Forgemasters is a top company in good health. Take the industrial high priests at the CBI. When the loan was announced in March, the CBI said that it 'will enable a world-class manufacturing firm to become a major player in the nuclear supply chain at home and abroad '.



    Full steam ahead: Production increased rapidly with the massive Charles Cammell steel works in 1846

    Only eight days before the loan was scrapped, Richard Lambert, the CBI's director general, visited Forgemasters and declared: 'The size and quality of the products being developed at Forgemasters is outstanding, and this expansion programme builds on that by making a real investment for the future.'
    What does he think now? Having just announced he is stepping down amid rumours of a job in Government, he is strangely silent, leaving a CBI spokesman to trot out the ministerial line: 'Given the state of the public finances, the Government has many difficult decisions to make.'
    The architects of Labour's original deal are as baffled as they are cross.
    'It's so short-sighted,' says shadow Business Secretary Pat McFadden. 'The risks were being shared with private investors and we were gaining a serious international advantage in the nuclear supply chain.
    'Besides, this was a loan not a grant. I agree with Vince Cable that we can't give loans to everyone, but this was a missed opportunity.'
    At Forgemasters, I am given a guided tour but the directors are unavailable for comment. I'm not surprised. With a new Government in power, no one wants to bite the hand that might feed again in the future.
    A spokesman can only repeat the company line: the news is a 'huge disappointment' but the company will 'engage constructively to explore other funding options.'



    Post-war production: Despite a drop in demand after the war, the John Brown open atlas steel works in Brightside, Sheffield, was still going strong

    On the streets of Sheffield, people are still astonished by the news. They accept that the days of state handouts are over but they can't see what the problem was with this deal.
    'Here was a great chance to create something unique and put Sheffield back on the map,' says Craig Marston, 34, ex-RAF and retraining as a physics teacher.
    His chum, Heath Winkley, 37, is in computers but has a father and brother in the steel industry. 'When I was young, our steel industry was taken for granted. Now it's clinging on but this could have given the UK a great niche in a world industry.'
    I head inside the Kelham Island Museum, a lively whizz-bang memorial to Sheffield's industrial past. The contents range from early cutlery workshops to the biggest bomb of World War II, the ten-ton Sheffield-built 'Grand Slam'.
    I stop to talk to a pair of model railway enthusiasts. John, a retired insurance broker, says he is a Tory voter and very pro-coalition.
    'But I just couldn't believe the Forgemasters news. It really stopped me in my tracks. What's Clegg thinking of? Attack wastage, yes, but not growth.'
    I turn a corner and there is engineering's Mona Lisa. It's the old engine which used to drive the hydraulic presses at the River Don Works. It's now the largest working steam engine in Britain, a mass of giant cogs and pistons rising up to the roof, all oil and polish.
    It bashed out steel plate for the first dreadnought in 1905 and was still going strong until it retired in 1973. Now people come to see it whirr and hiss and do nothing.
    For all that strife and hardship, we seem to love our great industrial past. So how can we be so neglectful of what should be a great industrial present?

    Comment


    • #3
      Awesome story, Can we get links to the full size pictures? I would love to see them.
      Play Brutal Nature, Black Moons free to play highly realistic voxel sandbox game.

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      • #4
        I take it Nick Clegg is your version of Nancy Pelosi?
        Gary


        Appearance is Everything...

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        • #5
          Originally posted by Black_Moons View Post
          Awesome story, Can we get links to the full size pictures? I would love to see them.
          Don't know if this will work but try: https://picasaweb.google.com/1042371...DHra_Er5nEvAE#

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          • #6
            Originally posted by goose View Post
            I take it Nick Clegg is your version of Nancy Pelosi?
            Something like that Gary. A Liberal in a coalition government that has run out of ideas of how to clean up the mess we're all in!!

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            • #7
              Very good exposition on the shortsightedness of the coalition. This government is pathologically opposed, as I feel most Tory governments have been in the past, to any government support for industry. It smacks of 'giving the workers a helping hand'.
              Their attitude is 'why not let foreign money do the job', as that Indian did for the Corby steelworks.

              What I can't understand is how they square this attitude with the fact that it's the political right who are generally more nationalistic, but this attitude is selling the nation down the river.

              In this respect it is little different acros the pond. In general it's the republicans who are more protective of the nation, while their policy of small government is exactly the policy that allows China and other successful economies to encroach on both production of goods for US consumption and the ownership of US companies.

              Meanwhile, British banks, who were bailed out to the hilt themselves, refuse to cough up the loans that industry needs. The Royal Bank of Scotland, which by either subterfuge or a stoke of luck has avoided losing their moneyspinner English outlets fo Santander, could get these guys going with a snap of their fingers.
              Richard - SW London, UK, EU.

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              • #8
                If it could not survive competitively in this globalised new world we are in - it "goes" to those who can do it faster and cheaper - arguably as well or better too.

                "Government assistance" is another way of propping up industries that are on their way out as well as "buying jobs" - all at (other) tax-payers expense.

                "Government subsidy" is a way of Government "picking winners" (which usually ends in an expensive political and finacial disaster).

                Its time to move on and put the past behind us.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by oldtiffie View Post
                  If it could not survive competitively in this globalised new world we are in - it "goes" to those who can do it faster and cheaper - arguably as well or better too.

                  "Government assistance" is another way of propping up industries that are on their way out as well as "buying jobs" - all at (other) tax-payers expense.

                  "Government subsidy" is a way of Government "picking winners" (which usually ends in an expensive political and finacial disaster).

                  Its time to move on and put the past behind us.
                  It's time to move on....to what? Doesn't really matter to folks like you OldTiffie, you days in the workforce are long gone. What about everybody else? People under 40 or 30? Should they all go to university and learn HTML and Java and develop websites? Put the past behind us? Forget that we were a great industrial nation? Take a backseat to countries without fair labor laws or policies and no environmental laws?

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Rosco-P View Post
                    It's time to move on....to what? Doesn't really matter to folks like you OldTiffie, you days in the workforce are long gone. What about everybody else? People under 40 or 30? Should they all go to university and learn HTML and Java and develop websites? Put the past behind us? Forget that we were a great industrial nation? Take a backseat to countries without fair labor laws or policies and no environmental laws?
                    People can't reasonaby expext thet in this day and age and likely tomorrow and the days after that too - to have a job of their choice with conditions and benefits that suit them to be there at their picking or with employers all lined up begging them to work for them (at a "name your own price/wages" basis etc.).

                    People have to be trained - and perhaps re-trained - several times over as the jobs market - what their is of it - demands over their working life (what there is of it).

                    Its a "buyers market" (employers) "out there" and some employers are doing it pretty tough too struggling to keep their head above water, their plants open and thier employees employed. In a lot of cases employees who are "put off" for one reason or another can go onto "Social Service" (aka "the dole") and some other all-be-it small benefits (for a while at least) whereas in some cases if an employer "goes under" he is bankrupted with little to show for it.

                    The opportunits are not all "bosses" as there are quite a few in the employee catetgory as well.

                    Many emplyers DO sell up for financial gain but that is a gamble that both employer and employee take.

                    "Corporatising" gains and "socialising" losses will not go away and has in large part brought many economies to their knees and potential bankruptsy with huge debts and little to show for it.

                    Anyone who thinks that there will or should be ample "machining" jobs in the future has to be dreaming - the poor numbers now will only get worse/less and there will be more psple looking/fighting for them.

                    People need to recognise that "re-training" (if you are adjudged as able/fit to be re-trained) is going to be a lot bigger part of the future than it is now.

                    Perhaps some people will never be able to be employed - for a whole lot of reasons - but it will not and is not limited to "workers" as many "professionals" are in a similar position with many more "thinking/designing" etc. jobs are being "contracted out" - and not just to "China" either.

                    Perhaps the days of a "job for life" with one employer are all but gone with more people working as "temporaries", "part time" or "(sub?) contractors" (who finish up when the job finishes) - all on short notice and all on an "hourly rate".

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                    • #11
                      The good lord help us if we ever have to wage a war against the folks that CAN make things and the only weapons we can muster are websites and lawyers. Maybe we can sue for peace! Bob.

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                      • #12
                        The Sheffield story is indeed sad, but not unique in these times. I can well remember when General Motors was the world's largest company , and one of the most profitable. Now, they struggle to survive, using government loans ( make that taxpayers' loans) to stay afloat. And with our deficit spending, we're just printing "funny money" anyway. And in my experience, the quality of GM products since the mid 1990s has sunken lower and lower. I don't have any solutions; I just observe that times change .

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by oldtiffie View Post

                          "Government assistance" is another way of propping up industries that are on their way out as well as "buying jobs" - all at (other) tax-payers expense.

                          "Government subsidy" is a way of Government "picking winners" (which usually ends in an expensive political and finacial disaster).

                          Its time to move on and put the past behind us.
                          I note that china definitely DOES subsidize industry, and has for many years. Of course, they WANTED to build up industry, and it is obvious that "we" do not.

                          China has "given" land to build factories, subsidized fuel costs, drastically enhanced and in part underwrote the import of tools and construction equipment to jump-start industry. And tax policy seems to likewise be tilted toward helping out industry.

                          But, I suppose that is just "assistance", "propping up industries that are on their way out", and no doubt the current state of manufacturing in china bears out your suggestions that government help is worthless and useless. All those thousands of newly empty factories, and starving, jobless, chinese people in breadlines..... all due to worthless government assistance.

                          But there is a funny thing about that..... certain entire product sectors are almost entirely made in china, being made virtually no place else on earth. Or sometimes being made in places which can offer even cheaper labor than china. most other sectors are substantially made in china. And those starving chinese are renting apartments and buying cars.

                          Perhaps there is a difference in the chinese vs roundeye definition of "jobless and starving"?
                          1601

                          Keep eye on ball.
                          Hashim Khan

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by J Tiers View Post
                            I note that china definitely DOES subsidize industry, and has for many years. Of course, they WANTED to build up industry, and it is obvious that "we" do not.

                            China has "given" land to build factories, subsidized fuel costs, drastically enhanced and in part underwrote the import of tools and construction equipment to jump-start industry. And tax policy seems to likewise be tilted toward helping out industry.

                            But, I suppose that is just "assistance", "propping up industries that are on their way out", and no doubt the current state of manufacturing in china bears out your suggestions that government help is worthless and useless. All those thousands of newly empty factories, and starving, jobless, chinese people in breadlines..... all due to worthless government assistance.

                            But there is a funny thing about that..... certain entire product sectors are almost entirely made in china, being made virtually no place else on earth. Or sometimes being made in places which can offer even cheaper labor than china. most other sectors are substantially made in china. And those starving chinese are renting apartments and buying cars.

                            Perhaps there is a difference in the chinese vs roundeye definition of "jobless and starving"?
                            In the nopt too distant past Goverments (national, state and local) virtually "bought" (ie bribed) large corporations with "red hot deals" with land grants, provision at little or no cost of utillies - gas, power, roads, rail, drainage etc. etc. - as well as subtantial "tax concessiojns/"holidays" - all at tax-payer expense.

                            They were classic cases of "buying jobs" - and votes - classic political pork-barrelling.

                            Some but not all "worked" with varying benefit to the local community - which rarely reached the "break-even" point.

                            Same applies to established companies who threaten to "leave" and have the clout and leverage to demand - and get - additional/improved "concessions".

                            All too often that employer is the largest for quite a way around and largely determines who works there (and who doesn't) at what wages, tenure and "benefits" (if any) largely on a "take it or leave it" scenario.

                            It is a classic "one" (maybe two or more) "company town".

                            So those tactics - quite legal mind you - are universal and not restricted to "advanced economies" and are not new - or in Asia either.

                            There will almost always be more people that there art jobs for them so those that have a job have to work hard(er?) to keep it and those that don't have a job either keep trying or give up. Not nice.

                            Those larger companies have an awful lot of political "clout" at all levels and cannot (and will not) be disregarded or looked down upon. They can effectively keep out any opposition or competition with all the "benefits" that goes with that.

                            We have it here in Australia as well - and have had for years.

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                            • #15
                              This is not news Kenny.This loan was cancelled back in the summer of 2010.
                              ISTR there was more to it than simple economics but can`t be bothered looking.
                              Forgemasters are famous of course for manufacturing the barrels for the Iraqi Supergun amongst other things.

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