Visiting Forgemasters at Sheffield. Photo: Mark Rodgers
It’s time for real action to #SaveOurSteel
I was proud to speak in the Steel City, Sheffield, at a big rally today in solidarity with the thousands of steelworkers fighting for their jobs, their livelihoods and their communities. Hundreds of workers and supporters came together to send a clear message to the government that we need urgent action, not just to safeguard thousands of highly-skilled jobs, but to secure the future of one of our most strategically important industries.
Steel is crucial to our national prosperity. It is the foundation stone on which so much of our economic success is built. We simply can’t afford to abandon it to the industrial scrap heap.
The facts speak for themselves. The steel industry contributes over £2 billion to the UK’s balance of trade. It sustains tens of thousands of jobs directly, and many more in the supply chain. And it generates £90,000 of added value for each and every steelworker.
But from Motherwell to Redcar, Scunthorpe to the West Midlands, steel is in crisis. SSI, Tata and Caparo are all in trouble, with one in six steel jobs now at risk.
Ministers need to understand that once these jobs, skills and blast furnaces are gone, they’re gone forever. Communities with steel in their DNA will be devastated.
But we’ll also be left at the mercy of the international markets, with no control over what we pay for the steel we need.
Our most urgent priority has to be to save plants and save jobs. That’s why, ahead of the G20 summit 2015, I wrote to the Prime Minister, asking him to put pressure on China to stop dumping cut-price steel on world markets. Our relationship with China should not be a one-way street.
It’s very different to the approach in America, where they’ve taken strong action to safeguard their steel industry. With seven in ten of the public supporting a similar response here, ministers must listen.
Government has it in its power to provide relief from exorbitant business rates and energy costs; to make sure we use British steel in infrastructure projects such as HS2; and to use procurement wisely to secure steel jobs. If the Germans can do it, if the French can do it, if the Italians can do it, then why can’t we?
It represents only a tiny fraction of the hundreds of billions the Government already spent in bailing out the banks.
But as well as the short term action, we need a long-term vision for steel too. We need to reverse decades of under-investment with funding from a new State Investment Bank.
And we need to replace our outdated free-market approach with a smart, active industrial strategy –doing what our competitor countries do and supporting our strategically important industries.
UK steel needs to be at the heart of our low-carbon future, helping ensure we have a just transition to green growth, and delivering wealth, security and prosperity for decades to come.
Never mind all the talk about the “march of the makers”. Never mind the rhetoric about a Northern Powerhouse. That’s all good, but it’s just empty words if we won’t step up now, and take real action on such a fundamental issue. We need to save our steel.