Why steel must be placed at the heart of Britain’s industrial strategy

Library image of  Jon Bolton Picture Tony Johnson.
Library image of Jon Bolton Picture Tony Johnson.
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THE UK can reap long term economic benefits by becoming the first nation to embrace decarbonised steel, according to a former senior executive at Liberty Steel.

Jon Bolton said the UK’s industrial strategy must place steel at its heart, despite British Steel’s financial troubles and other problems weighing on the sector, such as high energy costs and the uncertainty around Brexit.

Mr Bolton, who is now an adviser to the steel industry, said: “Steel is on the cusp of a transformation and three shifts - environmental, financial and structural – present opportunities.”

He added: “Environmentally, a move towards recycling could reduce carbon emissions by more than 60 per cent within the next five years and lead a path to zero-carbon steelmaking.

“The UK produces ten million tonnes of scrap steel annually, which is presently shipped overseas with no added value – this could, instead, be re-melted in electric arc furnaces to produce new steel, under a model pioneered by Liberty Steel right here in Britain.”

New technology, combined with an affordable power supply, could make the industry more competitive, Mr Bolton said.

“Britain has a tradition of innovation in materials processing, which gives us an advantage in technological expertise. And we have a relatively low emission electricity grid with wind, nuclear, tidal and solar playing a part – if power prices for industry could be pitched at a reasonable level, we could lead the way in low-carbon steel production.”

“As a nation, we’re importing more than six million tonnes of steel annually, which is creating almost twelve million tonnes of CO2 emissions where it is produced. That makes no sense - it’s time to halt that march of imports and snatch back the initiative.”

Mr Bolton warned that simply increasing British Steel’s production levels would not work.

Mr Bolton, who was previously joint chair of the Government’s steel council, added: “Across Europe, the sector has been under pressure from low-cost production from emerging markets – notably China, which takes just two days to produce all the steel Britain makes in a year.

“But it doesn’t need to be this way.

“We can be the first nation in the world to truly embrace decarbonised metal. Steel is a strategic national asset – and we must work together on a vision to make it a success in the UK.

“There is a positive future within our grasp for this vital industry, the question is will we make the brave choices needed to allow this potential to bear fruit?”

There’s no point in hiding it – it’s been another tough year for Britain’s steel industry, said Jon Bolton.

Mr Bolton said the ongoing troubles at British Steel are a symptom of the sector’s malaise.

He added: “ And this will be keenly felt in Yorkshire and the South of the Humber, where 9,000 people in this region work directly in the production of steel, and five times as many jobs in the community depend on the industry.”

He said: “But it’s not enough simply to throw up our arms and bemoan market forces.”