Sanjeev Gupta is chairman of Liberty Steel, a global business employing 30,000 people in the UK, Europe, USA and Australia. It runs steel plants in Newport and Tredegar. Mr Gupta, who lives near Chepstow, spoke to Business Argus about how he sees the sector in a post-pandemic world:

BRITAIN got a real 'wake up call' when the pandemic hit, said Sanjeev Gupta.

And the global steel company chairman said the 'scramble around for a more local supply chain' during the crisis is one thing which is likely to change the business landscape once the pandemic is under control and we emerge from lockdown.

Mr Gupta, who bought his first steel plant - Liberty Steel in Newport - in 2013, said: "One of the most striking aspects, from a business perspective, is that the pandemic has forced businesses to scramble around for a more local supply chain. Britain’s struggle to secure enough personal protective equipment for the NHS, enough ventilators for hospitals or even enough people to pick fruit in our farmers’ fields was a wake-up call.


"I think there’s going to be a real re-focusing on localisation, and on making sure that, as a country, we produce more of the material we need to sustain our own economy.

"And that means British construction projects, British infrastructure, British engineering companies will all want to do what they can to use more British-made foundation materials, such as the steel we roll in Newport and Tredegar."

Mr Gupta said: "It is vitally important for a place like Gwent to have a sustainable steel industry. This is an area built on heavy industry, and it’s a region I know well – I live just up the road. My first UK steel investment was in Newport in 2013 and I’m proud that we’ve been able to support and sustain a good business here.

"Jobs in the steel industry are valuable not just because they’re well paid and highly skilled but also because of the number of extra people they support in the supply chain.

"Every steel job supports another six in the local economy. So it makes complete sense to support this industry when it needs a bit of help to get through a temporary phenomenon such as the Covid-19 pandemic.

"Stephen Kinnock recently wrote to the Treasury saying that a failure of Tata’s Port Talbot steelworks would be catastrophic, and would lead to an astronomical bill for the taxpayer. I find it hard to disagree with that.

"We are working hard to make sure it doesn’t happen, but the industry does need some support from government to get us through this crisis.

"We’re very grateful to both the Welsh Government and to Westminster for the measures they’ve already taken to support businesses. And we’re making use of schemes such as the furlough scheme – because we’ve unfortunately had to ask many of our employees locally to stay at home until conditions ease, and demand picks up.

"It’s no secret that the steel industry has been in talks about some short-term support from the government to tide us over this crisis – and to be honest, I think that the majority of support really needs to come from Westminster, rather than Cardiff simply because the sums we’re talking about need to be substantial. We are appreciative of the Welsh administration’s work in supporting our suppliers and our customers."

Mr Gupta said: "We see a real opportunity for the sector, both nationally and internationally, as the world moves towards decarbonisation. Steel accounts for about nine per cent of carbon emissions and Britain has a legal obligation for industry to be carbon neutral by 2050.

"That sounds like a problem – but it’s an opportunity. It means there’s a moment in which we, as a country, can think long-term and get ahead of the rest of the world in retooling more environmentally friendly technology.

"So rather than burning fossil fuels in blast furnaces, for example, I’d like to see the industry transitioning to melting down and recycling scrap metal in electric arc furnaces, which can be powered by renewable energy. And in the longer term, there’s a lot of exciting research underway into using hydrogen to power the steelmaking process.

"We’ve put this transition at the heart of our strategy with a commitment to become carbon neutral by 2030. All of this is possible – but to get there, we need a forward-thinking industrial policy that incentivises investment and encourages training in heavy industry. I’m an optimist – I believe we can do it."

Another Newport steelworks, Orb in Stephenson Street, was put up for sale as a "former steelworks" earlier this year.

Mr Gupta said: "We did take a look at Orb but it would need a lot of work to turn it into a viable business. I’d love to be able to say yes we would buy it – but with all the other challenges facing the industry, it’s not on our radar at the moment."