Comment: The steel industry is being wiped out

Tata Steel’s latest announcement takes the toll of job losses in recent months to over 5,000


The UK government’s failure to act swiftly and decisively to support British manufacturing is leaving the industry on the verge of wipe out. Tata Steel’s latest announcement that it is axing a further 1,050 jobs takes the toll of job losses in recent months to over 5,000.

Port Talbot, Llanwern, Trostre, Corby and Hartlepool have become the latest communities to be hit by the crisis engulfing the industry, while steel workers from Motherwell to Redcar and Rotherham to Scunthorpe count the cost of closures and job losses.

The knock-on effects of these latest job losses, as with the others, will be felt throughout the supply chain and the wider manufacturing community, torpedoing George Osborne’s promise to ‘rebalance the economy’. His march of the makers is in reverse and the Northern Powerhouse is proving to be a myth.

Take Tata Steel’s plant in Scunthorpe for example. One-in-four of the region’s full time jobs rely on the plant which makes over 90 per cent the UK’s rail tracks.

A source of decent well-paid jobs and a key driver for growth, British steel is some of the best in the world and a central part of all our daily lives.

Yet the government, which promised to rebalance the economy in favour of manufacturing, is devoid of an industrial and manufacturing strategy to support one of our foundations, a proud and once mighty industry.

Shamed into doing something following the closure of the steelworks in Redcar, government ministers have talked a good talk, but delivered little. Promises to compensate the industry for high energy costs have yet to be received.

Meanwhile European summits to tackle the dumping of cheap Chinese steel have yielded nothing, moving at a glacial pace as ministers consider approving China’s bid for ‘market economy status’.

Any action BIS ministers Sajid Javid and Ann Soubry have taken has been in response to the unions and the industry kicking over the traces.

When will the penny drop with government ministers that a strategically important part of the UK economy faces oblivion because of their continued failure to take decisive and swift action?

The penny dropped years ago with countries like Germany and the USA. Their governments support their steel industries either through an integrated industrial strategy or through import licences and duties.

And while UK ministers may point to recent government guidance on the procurement of British steel for infrastructure projects, it risks being just more fine words and little action. Orders are what steelmakers in the UK need and need fast, backed up with cast iron guarantees that if it’s built for Britain it uses British steel.

The ‘hands off’ approach of the government towards the steel industry needs to change. Government ministers need to implement an industrial strategy with steel running through its heart, which supports skills, communities and decent well-paid jobs.

The alternative is an ever-dwindling industrial base and a self-defeating hollowing out of skills and communities as the promise to re-balance the economy becomes a distant pipedream.

Tony Burke is assistant general secretary of Unite responsible for manufacturing

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.

14 Responses to “Comment: The steel industry is being wiped out”

  1. bannedbythetelegraph

    First job, get back to using cheap fossil fuel for power and remove all green taxes/subsidies.

  2. madasafish

    The Welsh Government is in charge of Business Rates at Port Talbot. So start by asking them what they are doing.

    Strange how Labour devolved powers.. but when there are problems it’s the UK Government fault.

  3. Toffer99

    Cameron’s been thinking, “If Maggie can wipe out the miners, then I can do the same with the steelworkers”

  4. Selohesra

    Wilson closed more mines than Maggie

  5. David Davies

    We would no longer qualify to become members of the European Coal and Steel Community. Maybe Brexit is all part of the Long Term Economic Plan?

  6. steroflex

    Tony in China the price of electricity is 7c per unit. In UK it is around 40. Go figure as they say.
    Why? Well, how about all that wasted money subsidising Green Energy and Preventing (non existent) Global Warming?
    Once again we get loads of crocodile tears and nothing done. Meanwhile the working class is on its knees. But – hey! – Labour is the party of the Working man.

  7. steroflex

    I am so glad you are banned by the telegraph. You are right on this one!

  8. Peter Nelson

    Another issue is UK workers are easy to sack; Tories love the flexible market but it just means being able to get rid of people easily. And sadly New Labour did nothing to alter labour laws even though Blair made reference to rip off Britain.

  9. Bradley B.

    But -hey! – Conservative government or maybe you did not notice.

  10. blarg1987

    But less people worked in those mines as a whole and it was agreement with the coal industry and Unions.

  11. JohnB

    Don’t you guys have nukes? American nukes sell power to the grid for about 2 cents per unit. An industry cannot be competitive if power costs too much and steel making just chews electricity. If the factory is uneconomical it gets shut down.

    This is the price you pay for bowing to the Green Gods. Maybe it’s time to change to a new religion? 😉

  12. JohnB

    Good article. (And I’m a Conservative, Australian variety) One thing that both left and right can agree on is that to save an industry you need to find out why it’s failing and try to fix that underlying problem. As others have pointed out, the cost of electricity is a big downer.

    So here are the options; 1. Stop with the bullsh*t Green subsidies and make power as cheap as possible, thereby making British Steel competitive again. OR 2. Keep the Green rubbish, telling yourself that you’re “Saving the planet” and stop complaining about the industry failing.

    Seriously, people demanding policies that cause problems and then screaming that “the other side” should do something to fix the problem is getting really old. 😉

  13. Mike Stallard

    Mr Miliband, as I remember introduced the Climate Change Act – warmly supported by Mr Cameron and, of course, the Lib Dems.

  14. JohnB

    Are you lot sure that the “Raving Loony” party doesn’t have moles in the other parties? 😉

Leave a Reply