Steel City: Entrepreneurship, Strategy, and Technology in Sheffield, 1743-1993

By Geoffrey Tweedale | Go to book overview

11
Survivors and New Agendas

The days when Sheffield and Rotherham were the epitome of steel cities are long gone. In Sheffield, the socialist local authority now employs three times the numbers working in steel; only Sheffield Forgemasters in the private sector employs more than Bassetts, the liquorice allsorts sweets maker.

Metal Monthly Bulletin ( Oct. 1985), 87.

In the 1970s, despite the steady erosion of Sheffield's share of world steel which had been going on throughout the century, the local economy still prospered. Until 1981--when Sheffield had the third highest employment-dependence of any urban area on the mining, iron and steel, and other metals sector of the economy--the city's unemployment level was continuously below the national average. In 1979, however, Sheffield's manufacturing base began shrinking drastically. In only three years, between 1980 and 1983, the steel and engineering sector lost about 20,000 jobs. The result was that after 1981 the city's unemployment rate remained higher than the national average. 'The transformation has been astonishing--indeed, frightening', stated the journal of the Sheffield Chamber of Commerce.1 It was a change that was to cause a radical revision of outlook, in both local government and industry.

The transformed relationship between local government and industry is outlined in the Epilogue. In this chapter, the response of companies and businessmen to this period of decline (which many have described as collapse) is examined in the different sectors of Steel City's industry-- forgings, castings, special steels, and cutlery and tools. What new strategies and changes of attitude (if any) can be discerned in the 1980s and early 1990s?

The River Don site, the inheritor of so much of Sheffield's traditional skill in steelmaking and engineering (see Fig. 11-1), as usual faced the biggest problems. After its formation in 1982, Sheffield Forgemasters had the characteristic difficulty of Steel City companies attempting to restructure: how to bring together numerous disparate firms and activities at a time when the business outlook was bleak.2 Sheffield Forgemasters itself

____________________
1
Quality, 29 (Sept./ Oct. 1982), 50.
2
The following account is based on my interview with Forgemasters' directors; annual reports and other literature supplied by the company; the trade press, especially Steel Times; and Anita van de Vliet, "Out of the Furnace", Management Today ( Dec. 1990), 51-3.

-361-

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