The flaws in the Government’s steel strategy has been exposed - Nic Dakin
The transition to green steel is an important one. Decarbonising industry will be crucial in our journey to net zero, but should not come at the cost of jobs and livelihoods.
In fact in our transition to green industry and green energy there are opportunities for more high-skilled, high wage secure jobs that will last long into the future. Yet here we are facing 2,000 job losses in Scunthorpe and a very uncertain future for the UK's domestic steel industry as a whole.
British Steel’s plan to move to an electric arc furnace in their drive for green steel, supported by the UK government, is likely to take around three or four years to get up and running, and poses more questions than answers.
How can you retain the workforce needed to continue to produce steel for its customers over the next few years? Does National Grid need to bring forward the time to upgrade the connection to the grid for this to happen by 2027? Will an electric arc furnace that uses recycled steel be able to produce the quality steel needed by Network Rail, British Steel’s main customer?
As soon as you start digging into these plans the flaws are obvious. A more sensible, strategic approach would be to retain the ability to make our own virgin steel. This approach, which Labour has committed to, will ensure a smoother transition to green steel and protect jobs.
Whilst the current Conservative Secretary of State is comfortable in questioning if the UK even needs a steel industry, the Labour Party has made it very clear that having our own steel industry and our own virgin steel making capacity is crucial to our country’s safety and security.
And if we’ve learnt nothing else from the Ukraine War it is surely that there are certain things we need to be in control of – our food security, our energy security and, I would argue, our steel security.
An incoming Labour Government will deliver £3bn investment in UK steel which you would expect to be matched by the steel owners as partners in the future of the industry. The last time there was major strategic investment in UK Steel was in the 1970s. So now is the right time to make that strategic investment in a green steel future. But green steel isn’t just electric arc, it's also investing in hydrogen for iron making instead of coke and investing in carbon capture and storage.
In contrast, the current Conservative Government has happily thrown half a billion pounds to steelmakers in return for 2,000 plus job losses.
This is not the time for the sort of sticking plaster politics of the Conservative Government throwing money at the steel industry in crisis, it is time for strategic investment in steel to set it fair for the next 50 years.
It is not a time to announce job losses but a time to invest in the jobs of the future. And if the current government and British Steel owners Jingye are determined on an electric arc future then there needs to be a viable plan to get there.
Labour will deliver on our commitment to retaining virgin steel making capacity in a green steel future.
Nic Dakin is the former Labour MP for Scunthorpe and the current parliamentary candidate.