UK-first approach to infrastructure projects can safeguard future of steel plants like Stocksbridge: Miriam Cates
The financial troubles of the GFG Alliance – which owns the Liberty Group – have been well-publicised and, over recent weeks, owners and managers have made concerted efforts to try to refinance the business.
An agreement has been reached, which includes the proposed sale of plants in Stocksbridge Brinsworth and West Bromwich.
Stocksbridge has a proud history of steelmaking. Much of the social fabric of the town was built by the steelworks and it still provides over 700 well-paid jobs in addition to many others in the supply chain.
This is clearly a concerning time for Stocksbridge, but I know that if the right buyer can be found, the plant can have a bright future.
Stocksbridge Speciality Steels has unique and strategic capabilities that will be essential for the UK’s infrastructure, nuclear and defence requirements over the coming years, and that makes it a valuable asset.
As the local MP, I will continue to work closely with local management, union representatives and the Government to secure the future of the site and the jobs and livelihoods upon which our community depends.
There is every reason to be optimistic, but the next few weeks and months will be crucial.
And in many ways the situation in Stocksbridge is a microcosm for the position of the whole UK steel industry.
Demand for steel is increasing: in the UK, we will require millions of tonnes of steel for our ambitious infrastructure projects and to meet our net zero targets with the production of electric vehicles, wind turbines and the like.
If we can produce the steel that we need here in the UK, it will be better for the environment (UK steel has half the carbon footprint of some foreign imports), better for our security and will deliver on our commitment to ‘level up’, with steel jobs in Yorkshire paying 48 per cent more than the average wage.
But despite its huge potential, there are some specific actions that must be taken to secure the future of this iconic industry.
Post-Brexit, we are free to support our own domestic industries and so we must ensure that our own procurement processes favour UK manufacturers.
The Prime Minister has personally committed to ensuring that British steel is used for British projects, but we need regulations to be adapted swiftly to make this happen.
A more challenging long-term threat is the price of energy, with UK steel makers like Stocksbridge paying twice as much for their electricity as French competitors. As we move away from traditional, carbon-intensive methods of steel making, it’s even more important that we address this issue.
Even more urgently, we need to ensure that our steel safeguards are renewed.
Steel safeguards have been in place in the UK and across the EU since 2014, and they set a limit of how much steel can be imported from abroad each year before tariffs are imposed.
The effect of the safeguards is to protect our own domestic steelmakers from unfair competition, by preventing the UK market from being flooded with cheap imports.
Frustratingly, the Trade Remedies Investigations Directorate (TRID) last week recommended that protections for nine out of 19 types of steel products be dropped completely.
This is very worrying news for the industry, especially at a time when foreign steelmakers – China in particular – have been acting aggressively to flood international markets with low-cost steel, threatening to put Western producers out of business.
EU and US steel safeguards continue, and it is inconceivable that the UK should become the only Western steel producer not to protect its domestic suppliers.
Securing our steel supply is fundamental for the UK’s future.
In the same way that we are currently passing laws to protect our critical national infrastructure from foreign interference, we must also do the same to protect our critical national industries.
UK steel has a bright future, but we must be proactive – and persistent – in tackling the current challenges faced by the industry. Nurture is a requirement for growth, and our steel industry is definitely in need of some TLC.
Miriam Cates is the Conservative MP for Penistone and Stocksbridge.
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