When I joined British Steel Tinplate in 1996, there were two sites, Trostre near Llanelli and Ebbw Vale. Of those two plants, Trostre clearly was the top dog, having a diversity of tinning and TFS lines, a Ferrolite line which covers TFS steel with a PET or polypropylene coating, and above all they were producing all of the DWI steel for beverage cans. Ebbw Vale were taking the crumbs that fell off the table, such as cut sheet, batched annealed heavy gauge tinplate and the higher strength DR products.
As far as I could tell, both plants were minding their own business, with their respective Works Managers looking after their own patch. Even the Process Development Team, which fell under the responsibility of one manager, was clearly divided between the Trostre and the Ebbw Vale side, each with their own projects and priorities, the latter reflecting the business priorities of each individual plant.
So far, so understandable. However, what happened prior to the closure of Ebbw Vale was a bit of an eye opener: when it came to people from Ebbw Vale finding a placement in Trostre, very few were accepted, and one of the requirements for plant personnel was that they had to move to within 10 miles of the plant, allegedly to ensure that could respond promptly to any call-outs. Which basically meant for most people that they either had to leave their communities behind, or opt for redundancy.
I also applied to join the PDT in Trostre, who now was assigned a new boss, our current one being dismissed (as being too Ebbw Vale-minded ?), and having to opt for a position in Bergen. This time I didn’t make the mistake of Allied Steel &a Wire of not being prepared but still didn’t make it, even when far less qualified graduates did.
In May and June of 2001 (i.e. a year prior to Ebbw Vale’s closure) I did a short secondment in Trostre working on a project for Clare Gantley, but in the end the project didn’t lead anywhere, and any attempts I made in the meantime to find an alternative position in Trostre came to naught. Fortunately, a phone call to Ian Hobson brought me back to Ebbw Vale for the last year, and everything else that followed from it.
Trostre is still around and doing OK-ish. For a long time they were in a position where they were unable to return a profit despite bending over backwards and doing their utmost in productivity and production volumes. I suppose they are now playing second fiddle to IJmuiden, and having to take whatever is left of the order book.
Still, I’ve never understood the underlying antagonism between the two BST sites. Surely the hand of history (they came from different parent companies into British Steel Corporation) couldn’t endure for this long. Or was the difference in culture such that if you were a well-entrenched Ebbw Vale person, you were deemed not to fit in Trostre. There definitely was not a shred of interest in the traffic light system developed in Ebbw Vale. The only person who came to witness one of our traffic light meetings was Ed Morris who represented the hot strip mill in Port Talbot.
And because of this lack of interest I followed Ian Hobson to Llanwern, which in the end was maybe a better outcome than if I had gone to Trostre.