Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has urged the British Government to follow the example of Italy by intervening to save the country’s beleaguered steel industry.
With the Government coming under increasing pressure over its perceived failure to protect the industry from cheap imports and high energy costs, he said locally-sourced steel should be used on future infrastructure projects in the UK.
Just days after the announcement of 1,200 job cuts at Tata Steel in Scunthorpe, it emerged that the Government is using Swedish steel in a multi-billion pound contract for armoured cars and ships.
The Ministry of Defence has placed a £3.5 billion order for 589 Ajax armoured vehicles, and will spend a further £348 million on three new Royal Navy offshore patrol ships, to be built with steel imported from Sweden.
Describing the decision as “appalling”, Mr Corbyn said: “What we are trying to find out is whether Tata Steel in Scunthorpe was even consulted on that Swedish contract, we don’t know the answer.”
Speaking during a visit to Leeds, Mr Corbyn compared the refusal of the British Government to intervene with the bail out of a struggling steel plant by the Italian Government last year.
He said: “The British Government has refused to intervene until now and only belatedly, and only on the issue of energy costs.
“The issues have to be, one, intervening on energy costs, and two, intervention to try and ensure much more locally-sourced steel is used, ie big UK construction projects get more local steel.
“There are things like Crossrail, HS2 coming up, and the Midlands Mainline and the East-West TransPennine route, all these things will need a lot of steel. We need to make sure it is locally sourced, which can be done within EU rules.”
Earlier, during a visit to the Tata Steel site in Scunthorpe, Mr Corbyn said he is prepared to travel to Beijing to confront the Chinese government about cheap imports of steel which are being partly blamed for hundreds of job losses in the UK.
Mr Corbyn said so-called “dumping” of steel is having a “ruinous” impact on the industry in Britain.
Tata will face the brunt of 1,200 job cuts the company announced last week as it blamed cheap imports, the strong pound and high energy costs. Mr Corbyn said he had raised the issue with the Chinese president during his recent visit to Britain, and said he is prepared to make the case in China if required.
He said: “We cannot allow steel to be dumped all over the world at less than the price of production which is so ruinous to highly skilled communities like this, communities which have made steel that has made the trains, the rails, the cars and everything else that we have in this country.”
He said the Chinese delegation had promised to “come back to us on these issues”, but added: “If necessary we will go to Beijing and continue that hard work.”
During a speech in front of a 1,000-strong crowd at the University of Leeds’s Great Hall yesterday, Mr Corbyn warned that 80,000 people in the city risk falling off the Electoral Register due to changes introduced by the Government.
Under the current electoral system, one person in each household completed the registration for every resident eligible to vote. But when councils transfer to a new register in December, to which everyone has to sign up as an individual, Labour estimates around one million people will fall off the electoral register.
It says most of these people will be younger, or living in more deprived or urban areas, meaning these groups will be under-represented when constituency boundaries are withdrawn. Mr Corbyn said yesterday: “We will end up with a gross unfairness.”