Why we must all fight to save our ‘fantastic’ steel industry from meltdown – Gill Furniss

I THANK the steelworkers, the steel manufacturers, the trade unions – Unite, Community and GMB – and also UK Steel for their unwavering support for this fantastic industry. Such a coalition is rare, but it shows how important the steel sector is to our communities and our country.

Protesters outside British Steel's Scunthorpe plant after the firm collapsed.

On May 22, British Steel collapsed, putting at risk 4,000 jobs directly and 20,000 jobs in the supply chain. That announcement came as a shock to thousands of steelworkers who worked against the odds to defend the company’s future, and I join the thousands waiting impatiently to hear some positive news about a new buyer.

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Sheffield MP Gill Furniss wants new action taken to save the UK steel industry.

It is imperative that the Government prioritise a buyer for the whole steelworks, not parts, and I urge them to make every necessary support available so that we can secure the long-term future of the company.

For decades, the steel sector has been at the heart of communities, including mine in South Yorkshire.

When I joined Parliament in 2016, the steel sector was going through a severe crisis, which saw the collapse of the Redcar steelworks.

The British Steel plant at Scunthorpe.

We must never let such a collapse happen again. We have to collectively value and appreciate the importance of the steel sector, and although there are global and domestic challenges, including global overcapacity, there are also enormous opportunities.

We always need steel, which literally forms the fabric of everything we see. I sincerely worry that both contenders to be the next Prime Minister are advocating a no-deal Brexit. As UK Steel has clearly stated, that would be catastrophic for the sector. It could cost it £70m and lead to further collapses.

The steel industry has many strengths and is able to thrive, but, for that to be achieved, we need the Government to commit to help. The future of UK steel can be bright, and the Government’s own analysis has identified a £3bn opportunity by 2030, sustaining good jobs in the areas that need them the most.

The future of the UK steel industry is mired in financial uncertainty.

The news last week that Jaguar Land Rover will invest £1bn in building electric cars in the UK was an enormous boost, with the company leading the way on electrifying the cars on our roads and signalling a commitment to a greener economy.

The opportunities for end-to-end supply in that process – making the steel at home to support the building of those vehicles – could be enormous. That could support and encourage growth in the steel sector while spearheading a green revolution.

It is disappointing that the opportunity to secure a steel sector deal has never come to fruition. The steel sector needs that deal for innovation, for user research and development, and to be there to take on exciting opportunities for the future. The steel industry is there and waiting to be helped with the challenges ahead and the opportunities to make it thrive.

UK steel companies pay 50 per cent more in energy costs than their competitors in the EU. On procurement, we know that UK Government decisions are a hugely powerful policy tool to boost British steelmakers’ orders.

The decision to use our steel for the Royal fleet would be much welcomed. It would also make complete sense for our national defence. Please, Minister, look at that, because those are the opportunities that need to be put forward.

I commend the UK steel charter, which is aimed at enhancing and maximising procurement opportunities for UK steel producers. The Welsh Labour Government were the first to sign up to that commitment.

They are leading the way, but departments in Whitehall appear to be resistant to signing up. Will Ministers commit that all departments will sign up to the charter?

On business rates, the perverse inclusion of investment in machinery, which increases a company’s business rates, is patently a barrier to investment. Some British steel companies have huge disparities in their business tax bills across their plants in Europe.

For example, Tata pays a business tax bill in Wales that is 10 times ​that of its operation in the Netherlands. Will the Government join the Labour party in our pledge to remove machinery for steel companies from business rates to ease that burden and invite more investment back into the steelworks? I am not saying it will be easy, but what is a Government for if not to support our foundation industries and encourage their growth?

Our steel industry is fabulous, innovative, flexible and resilient, and it can thrive. Please help us to make sure it stays that way.

Gill Furniss is the Labour MP for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough. She spoke in a Parliamentary 
debate on the UK steel sector – this 
is an edited version.