Sun Setting on Port Talbot steel works. Photo: Scott Barbour
Tata steel crisis needs real action – not confusion and mixed messages
Tata Steel’s plans to sell its UK assets have plunged our steel industry into uncertainty. It’s not just the 4,000 steelworkers in Port Talbot who risk losing their jobs but also thousands more workers in Tata’s businesses elsewhere in the UK, and people working in Tata’s supply chains – which think tank IPPR reckon could total as many as 40,000 jobs.
I have just returned from Mumbai where I have been with Port Talbot steelworkers and the local MP, meeting Tata, only to hear an underwhelming statement from the Prime Minister. The PM had the gall to state that his intervention with Tata was responsible for securing a ‘sales process’ but the sad truth is that BIS ministers didn’t take the opportunity to join us in Mumbai and the government was nowhere to be seen.
I am disappointed that the government still has no plan for the industry but instead seems to be adding to the confusion and mixed messages that have been the state of play for the last 36 hours.
It started with steel minister Anna Soubry telling us on Tuesday morning that the government would “leave nothing off the table” in finding a way out of this crisis. However, by the afternoon her boss, business secretary Sajid Javid, had already said that one of the practical options available to the government – nationalisation – was “not a solution”.
The Prime Minister, who has previously promised to do all he could to safeguard UK steel has ruled out a recall of Parliament. The industry is standing on the brink of a national industrial crisis, and it’s profoundly disappointing the Prime Minister doesn’t see this as a sufficient priority for a recall that would give MPs from worried steel communities across the UK the opportunity to debate the issue and hold the government to account.
Seeing confusion and mixed messages from our government will only increase the worry of steelworkers and their communities across the UK. At the steelworkers’ union Community, we have always been willing to work constructively with government to secure a future for steelmaking.
But we’re worried that the fact they are saying they will do all they can, yet still being unclear on any potential positive government intervention shows a government divided and without the political will to take the tough action that will be necessary to save our industry. We don’t want Sajid Javid rushing back from Australia, just to repeat the mistakes he and his colleagues made over Redcar.
It is also too soon to be talking about measures to mitigate job losses. People still have jobs now and the government should be focused on ensuring that their employment and steel making continues.
Steel is an industry of strategic importance for the UK, but at a time when we need clarity on a response in the national interest, the government seems mired in confusion. This is not just the third day of a steel crisis; we have been dealing with the consequences of the current global steel market for months if not years. It is astonishing that the government was so unprepared for Tata’s announcement.
I would like to see evidence of the Prime Minister’s claims that they have increased procurement of British steel or tackled Chinese dumping of steel in Europe as it’s not what I hear from steel producers. The UK is one of the member states opposing the end of the lesser duty rule in Europe, which currently prevents higher tariffs being imposed.
Steelworkers need a government that will protect their jobs and ensure a long term future for British steel making. We simply will not accept a laissez-faire attitude when it comes to protecting our members’ livelihoods and families. Rather than the Prime Minister sitting down with his ministers, perhaps he should heed our call to meet us. Our members and I can help set him and his government back on the right path.