In recent weeks and months the loyal and highly-skilled Tata workforce in Port Talbot and across the UK have watched with dismay as the UK government seemed unable or unwilling to act in the best interests of their jobs and the economy, and the interests of the steel industry in the UK. UK Ministers – and the Prime Minister himself – seemed to have a surplus of warm words for the steel industry, but a dire shortage of action.
The contrast with the Welsh Government in Wales was stark. The Labour First Minister offered a package of financial and other measures which was welcomed by the workforce and unions. But the major tools to “level the playing field” for British-produced steel lay with the UK government, who refused calls to argue at an EU level for the highest tariffs against dumping of steel.
But it now seems that the UK government have been pushed and harried by the steel workers and their communities, by local Labour steel MPs and AMs, and by Labour Ministers in Wales to finally step up to the plate. This week we learn that UK Business Minister Sajid Javid is finally considering “co-investment” as an option, where the government takes a stake in Port Talbot production to ensure continuing steel-making here.
This is a step-forward, but the UK government should not have had to have been dragged kicking and screaming to the point of offering support. They have been shockingly slow to act, and up till recent days there were serious worries that the Conservatives were content to watch the UK steel industry slip away into history and oblivion.
What a disgrace it would be if in years to come the steel used in construction projects and diverse production in the UK – from cars to HS2 to renewables and nuclear – was all being imported, because a Conservative government sat passively by as our industry and jobs were undercut by dumping of cheap steel (as well as other domestic failures of policy).
We now have to keep the pressure on the UK government to work with the Welsh Government, with the workforce and with potential buyers to build a sustainable future for steel in Port Talbot and across the UK. This has surely been a wake-up call for a Tory government who were asleep on the job, when they should have been pursuing an active industrial strategy which would protect our vital steel industry in the UK.
The dumping of cheap Chinese steel still needs to be addressed, The European Commission has proposed that the lesser duty rule should be scrapped, and whilst this has been supported by the European Parliament the UK Government continues to lead a small group of nations to block this.
Whilst there are currently (and very late in the day!) some compensation measures, the UK energy costs for heavy-industry remain uncompetitive, so the government has to bring forward measures to reduce energy costs whilst improving energy efficiency. We also need to boost the support for UK steel through investment in infrastructure and procurement policy
There is a long way to go to safeguard this industry and these jobs. We will all need to work together to succeed. We need active government at a UK level – not just in Wales – to demonstrate to any potential buyer that the UK is committed to a sustainable future for steel for the long-term.
As I speak to worried local families, they want government to step up to the mark. It looks like we are finally having that, but we will need to keep the pressure on!