Ministers accused of ‘little action’ over steel

Tata Steel Plant in Scunthorpe, North Lincolnshire.  Anna Gowthorpe/PA Wire
Tata Steel Plant in Scunthorpe, North Lincolnshire. Anna Gowthorpe/PA Wire
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The government was not alert to warning bells sounded by the UK steel industry ahead of it cutting thousands of jobs, a hard-hitting select committee report has found.

It said other European countries took action to safeguard their steel industries and protect jobs and supplies, but there was “little action” from the UK Government, according to the committee of MPs.

Communities reliant upon the sector have been left reeling following the demise of the industry and the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee also criticised UK governments for failing to push for European Union action, which it said left firms exposed to the dumping of cheap exports from China and a global over-supply of goods.

Thousands of jobs have been lost in recent months, including the closure of the SSI plant in Redcar, and cuts in Scunthorpe and Lanarkshire.

Paul Blomfield, Labour MP for Sheffield Central and select committee member, claimed: “The key point is that this is a product of the Government’s laissez-faire approach, we cannot just let the market determine the future of our key industries, the Government has to move to protect manufacturing and to protect key industries.

“If you lower your independent ability to produce steel then you become increasingly dependent on nations like China and you become hostage to others,” he added.

Ian Wright, committee chairman said the Government had now “woken up to the steel crisis” and begun to take action but said for too long it failed to be alert to alarms raised.

Gareth Stace, director of UK Steel, said the key was the Government and stakeholders working together to ensure: “we have a sustainable future for the steel industry in the UK.”

Harish Patel, Unite national officer, said: “We must never again see a situation where a viable asset like Redcar is lost to the nation because of the Government’s ideological opposition to strategic intervention.”

The report says the Government’s initial response focussed on compensation for the workers rather than trying to save the plant.

A Business Department spokesman said while the report recognised the industry had been subject to complex global challenges, it also recognises the significant steps the Government had taken to help the steel industry.

He said: “We have taken clear action on relief for energy costs, anti-dumping, procurement and EU emissions directives, meeting key industry asks.”

The spokesman said it could not dictate the commercial decisions of private companies.

“SSI UK had lost over £600 million in just three years, had accumulated even greater debts and the price of the steel it produced had halved in the past year alone. If the BIS Select Committee had a magic bullet that could have saved the plant against these conditions, they certainly kept it to themselves,” the spokesman added.