Government pledges support for ‘sustainable’ steel industry

MPs have called on Government to  step up support for steel
MPs have called on Government to step up support for steel
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Redcar steelworks: In September 2015, the SSI plant in Teeside paude production due to declining prices. Despite calls for Government intervention, it entered liquidation in October and more than 1,700 jobs were lost.

The assurance came as MPs from major manufacturing towns called for a more pro-active approach from the state as they warned the industry is at risk of “evaporating”.

The cross-party groups of MPs pressed the Government for a commitment to use more UK steel in domestic projects.

They also urged ministers to keep steel at the forefront of their minds throughout the Brexit process – and beyond

Opening the debate in Westminster Hall, Labour MP Tom Blenkinsop stressed to ministers that far from being a “dead or dying” business, “steel is a strategic and foundational industry”.

But the Middlesbrough MP warned the sector is “fighting an uphill battle” and must not be allowed to “evaporate”.

“If the Government want to rebalance the economy away from London and to build our manufacturing sector, they simply must support the steel sector,” he said.

“The products of our steel industry supply the booming automotive manufacturing industry and the aerospace manufacturing industry, among others.

“The UK steel industry should be seen as an opportunity — a reservoir of potential — rather than, as it is sometimes called, a burden on a modern economy.

“[But] we should be wary of how quickly that reservoir can evaporate.”

Outlining the current challenges to the sector, MPs pointed to high energy costs and low trade tarrifs which fuel Chinese steel “dumping”.

But they also criticised the Government’s use of foreign-made steel for many of its major defence and infrastructure projects.

Several MPs highlighted the use of French steel in the construction of hulls for the new fleet of Trident submarines.

They urged the Government to commit to using British firms for future projects such as Hinkley Point, Heathrow and HS2.

Penistone and Stocksbridge MP Angela Smith flagged up the ongoing uncertainty around Tata Speciality Steel steel plants in Sheffield and Rotherham.

She stated that while “the sense of immediate crisis appears to have passed” for the industry in the region, the Government should not take its foot “off the brake”.

“Although the sale of Port Talbot has been suspended... Speciality Steels, which has plants in Sheffield—in Stocksbridge, in my constituency—and Rotherham, is still up for sale,” she said.

“Given the current instability at the global board-level at Tata, I ask the Minister what the Government are doing to ensure that the sale of Tata Speciality Steels in South Yorkshire is not compromised.”

Ms Smith also raised the prospect of Brexit, calling on the Government to “provide security against the uncertainties of the global economy”.

She suggested ministers need to be “fully engaged” with the industry “to help it to deal with the uncertainties it faces”.

Their concerns were acknowledged by the minister for industry, Nick Hurd who said the Government had a “complete understanding” of their frustration around uncertainty.

He said the Government “shares this frustration” because of the “deep structural difficulties that the sector faces”.

“The Government are deeply aware that the difficulties have not gone away. We are fully engaged at all levels... to stay as close as we can to all the complex conversations that are going on,” he said.

“Our message to everyone is that we are here to support a long-term, sustainable future for the sector.

“We want to work together to move the story of the sector away from any suggestion of sunset, failure or survival to talk of exciting growth.”