A STEEL company has announced plans to cut jobs – but says North-East workers are safe.

Tata Steel is restructuring its speciality and bar business, as it battles against rising imports and higher electricity costs.

The company says 720 posts are under threat, mainly at its bar division, in Rotherham, South Yorkshire.

However, bosses told The Northern Echo the move will not affect its North-East operations, which include the Teesside Beam Mill, near Redcar, and the Hartlepool Pipe Mill.

The move comes just a day after unions agreed to Tata changes to the British Steel Pension Scheme (BSPS), which kept the pot open and averted the threat of the industry’s first strike in more than 30 years.

Tata says its specialist and bar arm oversees high-value steels, including some products for aircraft landing gear.

However, Dr Karl Koehler, the firm’s European operations chief executive, said it was fighting against increased imports, due to the strong pound, and rising energy rates, which he warned could see companies pull out of the UK.

He said: “We have invested more than £20m in our speciality steels business, which has created a stronger and more technically advanced platform to meet customers’ needs.

“However, energy is one of our largest costs in speciality and bar, and we are disadvantaged by the UK’s cripplingly high electricity costs.

“While the Government announced helpful measures to reduce the impact of its high energy taxes a few years ago, these measures still haven’t been introduced.

“Now is the time to act.

“Foundation industries like ours urgently need a competitive business environment and a government willing to strengthen UK manufacturing supply chains.

“This would ensure the UK remains an attractive place to invest.”

Dr Koehler added the company will work with unions to redeploy workers and minimise the number of compulsory redundancies.

While expressing their worries over the move, unions also reiterated Dr Koehler’s appeal to the Government.

Roy Rickhuss, general secretary of the Community organisation, added: “It is clear the UK steel industry is in a perilous state and, as the biggest producer, Tata Steel is particularly affected.

“There is already a case for Government action.

“We have been saying for years uncompetitive UK energy costs are damaging the industry.”

Earlier this week, union members from Community, GMB, Unite and Ucatt voted in favour of changes to the BSPS.

Staff, including a number of Tata’s 750-strong North-East workforce, had voted to take strike action when the firm revealed it wanted to close the BSPS, fearing it would force people to work five more years, until 65, to get their full pension.

However, after talks between the company and unions, supported by the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, Tata tabled a final proposal that was accepted.

Tata’s restructuring has also included plans to make its Long Products division, which includes the Skinningrove special profiles plant, in east Cleveland, a standalone subsidiary in its European operations.

When announcing the plans in May, the firm said it hoped the business, to be known as Longs Steel UK, could attract more state funding.