The dire announcement in recent days of 1050 job cuts to Tata steel, with 750 of those in nearby Port Talbot, has surely got to send the alarm bells ringing in No 10. They should have been ringing loud last year, after the dire news of the Redcar closure.
This matters to the UK because of the strategic importance of steel-making to our manufacturing base. It matters to South Wales and to us in Bridgend because of the numbers of people who are employed directly in Port Talbot, but also because of the supply-chain jobs from road haulage to routine maintenance, and the indirect support to the local economy: the shops and cafes and plumbers and electricians who keep going on the back of the steel pound.
Yet the Prime Minister has been not only impotent in the face of the growing steel crisis, but negligent of the steel industry for years: the lack of an industrial strategy (the UK government seem to regard it as a throwback to the 1980s); the failure (unlike other European countries) to put in place an package for Energy-Intensive industries like steel which would allow them to be competitive; the lack of diplomatic pressure on China over dumping of cheap inferior steel, leading to criticisms of the UK government being a “cheerleader for china”.
The Prime Minister’s hands-off approach to national and global market forces is a disaster. He is looking on like a disinterested bystander as our British steel industry convulses. And this could get worse, unless the Prime Minister gets serious about steel.
Currently the government is negotiating on “Market Economy Status” for China at an EU level. This could lead to increased dumping of cheap steel in the EU.
As the General Secretary of the steelworkers’ union Community Roy Rickhuss wrote in an open letter to UK Minister Anna Soubry this week, “senior industry figures have told me that if China does achieve Market Economy Status it will be a catastrophe for our industry and most likely the final nail in the coffin for UK steelmaking.”
Previous Tory governments actively colluded in the demise of the coal industry and the decimation of coal communities. This time, their supine passivity in the face of global pressures is risking the future of steel and steel communities. This is a time for active UK government with an industrial strategy, not excuses for doing nothing.
Watch Huw’s contribution to the Westminster Hall debate on the future of the UK steel industry at: http://parliamentlive.tv/event/index/88c01dc1-6fff-4991-a0a2-88520464331c?in=14:11:11&out=16:30:40