Category Archives: Tata Steel

Writing Good Code


I’ve always liked xkcd, because it’s clear that the author knows firsthand what IT really is about. Especially the webcomic “Good Code” highlights the conundrum with which every coder is confronted: write fast or well? In the first instance the danger of spaghetti code is always around the corner, whereas in the latter the requirements may have changed by the time you’ve finished your project.

Those who have read my blog know where my preferences lie. At least when you write at the speed required by your customer’s needs you stand a chance that it will have some useful life span.

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BSPS2


So the days of the old BSPS are numbered. At some point in the next few months it will be absorbed by the Pension Protection Fund (PPF). In the meantime a second incarnation of the British Steel Pension Scheme, with less generous CPI-based annual increments, is being proposed, and the personal papers have been sent out to all existing members.

There are also public meetings planned. Although already started in the north, South Wales will have to wait till the middle of November for them to take place. I have booked mine for Port Talbot on the 15th of November. Although to be fair, in my case the choice is a no-brainier: if I follow the BSPS into the PPF, I immediately take a 10% cut in my pension, something that never will be recovered by future pay increases.

People who haven’t retired yet have a third option, which is to take their money out of either scheme and try their luck in investing it in a form of defined contribution scheme. Fortunately that’s not an option for me. I say fortunately, because if this goes wrong it could become the next financial miss-selling scandal. At least in my case it doesn’t come as a total shock, unlike some people who retired ages ago, and had thought themselves set up for the rest of their days.

Especially since pensions earned prior to 1997 are not index-linked at all. Although I’m partly affected there (my first year at British Steel together with my Allied Steel & Wire transferred Pension), at least it’s not the total disaster it is for people who have all or most of their service in that period.

So where does this leave me? Not over the moon, but also with the thought that it could have been so much worse. By the time inflation starts to erode my current pension, maybe the state pension can come to the rescue.

Coda


This is the last regular post I intend to make on this blog – from time to time there may be the occasional addition, but from now on they will be the exception rather than the rule.

The reason ? I think I’ve more or less exhausted the major stories from my career in steel between the days I started my studies in 1973 and the day I retired in march 2016. No point in mulling over stale topics, and I thought that the first anniversary of my retirement might be a good point in time to stop.

In a way, retirement has been as expected, although the possibility of coming back on a part-time basis to help out did not materialise. As far as the business and the pension scheme is concerned, things are still up in the air. Even though the financial situation of both has improved, neither can claim to be futureproofed to any major extent.

Granted that Tata had their wish in getting the defined benefits scheme shut (I haven’t heard of any date when this closure will happen), and that as a result Port Talbot’s blast furnaces were given a five year lifeline, but to be honest that’s not exactly a secure long-term future. As for the pension scheme, Tata’s ultimate goal to completely divorce itself from the British Steel Pension Scheme is only partially achieved with the closure of the defined benefits scheme, and the possibility of the Pension Protection Scheme still hangs over the proceedings.

The potential merger with Thyssen-Krupp appears to have faded away. One of the possible reasons being, ironically enough, the fact that Thyssen-Krupp’s pension is only kept afloat by the good financial results of its parent company. Would Tata really want to ditch one pension scheme only to lumber itself with another one with equal potential for economic damage ?

Whatever the case, the year since my retirement must have been filled with insecurity for all parties involved. To be honest, even I feel that I would want things to be put to bed as far as the pension arrangements are concerned. The British Steel Pension Scheme has not given any further updates since last January, probably meaning that there’s no clear way forward yet.

Until that happens, I won’t have properly retired.

Saying Your Goodbyes


Whenever I left one job to go to another, there usually wasn’t much of a goodbye involved, and even less so as time wore on.

When I left the laboratory of professor Dilewijns, there was an informal get together with the technicians, but as far as I can remember no speeches and no presents. Maybe followed by a few pints in the pub, that’s about it.

The farewell was a little bit more official in Iscor, with a conference room booked and full of people that I’d known and worked with in the technology department. Can’t remember too much about the speech, apart from flattering my audience by saying that South Africa would always have a friend in me. I received a watch as a present, although it can’t have been a very good one, since it fell apart within half a year of me receiving it.

The farewell from Allied Steel & Wire was a bit more awkward given the circumstances, but there was a skittles evening as the Christmas do, which doubled up as a farewell do for me. I must still have the pewter cup its the AS&W logo, but it’s packed away somewhere – I still don’t see the point in putting it on display. In my reply to Tony Franks’ speech I stated that, while I would miss them as colleagues, I wouldn’t miss Allied Steel & Wire as a company.

And that was really the last of the official farewells. When I left Tinplate R&D for Ebbw Vale, it was initially only as a secondment, and by the time the secondment became permanent due to the reorganisation of R&D set-up, there was no-one left to say goodbye to. Likewise when I left Ebbw Vale for Llanwern: by the time I was making the move there were very few people left to say goodbye to.

The move from Llanwern to Port Talbot turned out to be so gradual that there hardly seemed to be any point having a farewell do, because by the time my move to Port Talbot became official, I had already spent quite a bit of time there.

When I finally decided on my retirement, I was so busy until the very last day that all the farewell consisted of going to see a few the closest colleagues and shaking their hand, receiving two £25 vouchers as a thank you for services rendered, and a final email containing the message “So long, and thanks for all the fish” – I didn’t want to come across as too sentimental, and I thought the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy reference couldn’t hurt my geek credentials.