My attention was drawn to an exhibition in Swansea’s Waterfront Museum with photographs from people who were part of a Ebbw Vale’s last shift in July 2002 by a page on the BBC website called The last shift at Ebbw Vale.
I must admit to my shame that hardly any of the names or faces were familiar to me. Then again, my time in Ebbw Vale was short (starting in September 1999 and ending in a June 2002), and most of my activities centred on the temper mill, or in the last year on the traffic light system.
I visited the Waterfront museum a few days ago, and found the exhibition in question. There was also an info panel containing some background information (presumably compiled by the photographer) behind the closure of Ebbw Vale, which unfortunately contained a number of substantial errors. The fourth and fifth paragraphs in particular did not match what I thought I had unearthed during my compilation of my blog entry “A Marriage Made in Heaven ?“.
This was not to last. Currency fluctuations coupled with a price collapse in the international steel market saw British Steel fall into debt and it was taken over by the Dutch conglomerate Hoogoverns in 1999 and renamed Corus.
In the year 2000, Hoogoverns claimed that its subsidiaries in Wales were losing £1million per week and that a major restructuring programme was being considered. The following year this plan was acted upon, meaning that the plant at Ebbw Vale would completely close in July 2002.
Especially one of my sources, Corus: The merger that got things wrong, provides all the information needed to highlight the inaccuracies in the quoted paragraphs above.
First of all, British Steel had not fallen into debt, but instead had been criticised by the markets that they were sitting on a pot of cash and were not investing enough. Secondly, it was not a takeover but a merger, with British Steel providing 62% of the capital and Hoogovens 38% – hence Hoogovens was clearly the smaller partner at the time of the merger. And last but not least, the decision to bring the axe to parts of the UK operation was made by Brian Moffat who had shortly before sacked the joint CEOs Fokker Van Duyn and John Bryant.
Oh, and the name Hoogovens was misspelt Hoogoverns.
It would be a pity to see a falsified story of Ebbw Vale’s closure take hold because of a public exhibition in a prominent Welsh museum. So that’s why I’ve tried to put the record straight here (I’ve also sent an emails to one of the Exhibition and Programme Officers after having discussed the matter with her).