The long-standing link between what is now Tata Steel and P&O Ferrymasters (P&OFM) goes back more than 40 years to a European road transport contract with the British Steel Corporation dating from the late 1960’s.

History of P&O Ferrymasters and Tata Steel

The relationship remained on a customer/supplier basis until 1998, when P&OFM acted to set up a forwarding division by acquiring part of Great Britain Express. This company also had strong ties with British Steel. The perfectly-timed marriage matched British Steel’s desire to shift focus from the freight forwarding market and align its business with financially stronger, asset-based operators. That proved to be the trigger for developing today’s strategic partnership.

P&OFM soon devised an initiative creating synergies between British Steel’s export products and their subsidiary receiving sites in mainland Europe. This prompted a request to build and manage an entire outbound logistics solution for the Vlietjonge site in the Netherlands – an arrangement that has stayed in force since 1999.

In 2000, the growing demand for steel exports saw P&OFM acquire Swain International Transport, a steel products specialist, in a deal that added 250 coil-carrying trailers to the fleet.

Around the same time, P&OFM was presenting its Freight Management concept to Ijmuiden-based Dutch steel producer Koninklijke Hoogovens in response to a Request for Information. The far-reaching concept covers bespoke solutions for service and cost control, project management, haulier and warehouse management, local on-site presence, dedicated key account management, key performance indicators, standard operating procedures, best practice and operational and strategic reviews.

After several months of audits, development, planning and negotiations, the first of three Freight Management agreements was implemented – ending dependency on a local cartel of six hauliers by opening up the transport market. Currently P&OFM utilises more than 200 company-approved suppliers on the Ijmuiden transport flows. The haulier base is continually monitored and broadened via a carrier management programme. This facility delivers a far more diverse, competitive operator base and also encourages partners to invest in specialised steel-carrying equipment.

The radical change of logistics strategy at Koninklijke Hoogovens coincided with their merger with British Steel to form the Corus Group. The Freight Management concept was not universally adopted at first – the Anglo-Dutch units continued to operate independently – but it became the preferred option for all UK exports as ideas and initiatives were gradually shared across the new group.

Tata acquired Corus in 2007. In the same year, the individual business units launched a joint project in search of a single-source logistics solution for all their steel products – and P&OFM won the contract to provide Freight Management services for export despatches to all UK sites.

Health & safety support has been a crucial element of the service since 1997 and has matured through close collaboration with Tata. P&OFM has pioneered initiatives such as independent loading and securing tests through the Motor Industry Research Association; driver awareness and training programmes; site induction schemes; multi-lingual driver handbooks; site signage; and on-site load checkers. Regular working groups and review meetings are held across the Tata Steel organisation, with P&OFM providing key performance indicators and identifying joint improvement plans.

The strategic partnership between P&OFM and Tata Steel has evolved through decades of experience. The bespoke Freight Management concept has likewise developed to provide constantly refined, cost effective logistics solutions for Tata Steel. This mutually beneficial relationship allows Tata to focus on its core manufacturing activity while relying on P&OFM’s core strengths for optimum delivery of the finished product.