They are amazing men and women, and they have had some tough times and tough years. The last few weeks have been some of the toughest. British Steel, which employs 4,500 people in Scunthorpe and across the local area, with probably 20,000 people working in the supply chain, has gone into compulsory liquidation.
Steelworkers and their families, the contractor base and people who work in the supply chain will understandably be worried and concerned, as I am. But I know that we have a good business, and the country needs this business. Despite the challenge, I am confident about the future.
A few months ago, after a public fundraising campaign, a statue dedicated to steelworkers across the ages was unveiled in Scunthorpe town centre. That iconic statue is a beautiful piece of public art, and people swarmed to the town centre from across the community to recognise it. It demonstrates how the industry cuts through everything that the local area is about.
Steelmaking is the beating heart of the community that I am proud to represent. It is what gives the community its character and strength. Everyone has friends or family members who work in the steel industry or its supply chains. It provides high-skilled, well-paid jobs that drive the local economy, and has always been passionate about and committed to apprenticeships, training and investment—investing in community causes and the community effort. The supply chain and the contractor base are also hugely important.
This is not just an industry that is important to places around the country; it is an industry that is important to our country and it is part of our national asset. The strategic value of the steel industry is massive. It is a foundation industry that underpins our manufacturing and economic performance. If we are serious about being an independent and modern country, we need to have our own independent steelmaking capacity so that we have defence and infrastructure security, otherwise we are vulnerable to the whims and vicissitudes of others.
The strongest economies in the world have strong steel industries. Look at the countries with the strongest steel industries: No. 1 – the USA; No. 2 – China; No. 3 – Japan; No. 7 – Germany. The UK currently comes in at No. 30. Do we want to drop further down the league table? No, we do not. If we are serious about punching above our weight and being a leader in the world, we cannot slip further down that league table.
Steel is one of the most productive industries, and its productivity has increased massively over the last 20 years. It is also a hugely sustainable industry. Steel is highly recyclable — one of the most recyclable products. We may be able to do more to ensure that we recycle all our steel and use the best of what we have got, but steel made in the UK reduces the carbon footprint of production, so it is a sustainable product. If we are forced to import our steel from outside the UK, that will affect our ability to reduce our carbon footprint. The upsurge in desire to do better on tackling climate change is another reason why we need our own independent steelmaking capacity.
British Steel is a sound and effective business, and it has made a lot of progress over the past three years since the change of ownership. The uncomfortable truth is that this current crisis would not have happened if we had not decided to leave the European Union, and then made a mess by not getting on with it.
British Steel has a team in place from the Official Receiver to run it, and we need to keep the business going until new owners are found.
The last thing I want to say is that I would like to thank all the people who have contacted me and the steelworkers, locally and in the supply chain, to express their support and solidarity from across the country and across the community. That means a lot to people. It means a huge amount to people that everybody cares. And because everybody cares, I am confident about our future. The emblem on Scunthorpe Borough Council’s mast was “The heavens reflect our labours”. Let us hope the heavens are on our side as well.
Nic Dakin is the Labour MP for Scunthorpe. He spoke in a Parliamentary debate on the steel industry – this is an edited version.