Business leaders and unions spoke with one voice as they demanded urgent government action to save the UK steel industry.
In the wake of the closure of the Redcar plant, the crisis in the sector deepened with more than 1,200 jobs under threat at Tata plants in Scunthorpe in England and Dalzell and Clydebridge in Scotland.
Ministers met industry representatives on Friday at an emergency summit in Rotherham and were told that the sector, which has been undermined by cheap Chinese production and high energy costs, needs immediate assistance if further closures are to be staved off. “Time is ticking on the UK’s steel industry and the news of yet more job losses should jolt the Government out of its laissez-faire approach to this vital part of the UK economy,” said Unite’s assistant general secretary, Tony Burke. “We need urgent action to support steelmaking in the UK.”
The Business Secretary Sajid Javid said after the summit that the Government will work closely with the industry “to help find some answers” and that a “framework of action” had been agreed.
However, he warned against expecting too much, saying: “There is no straightforward solution to the complex global challenges facing the steel industry. There is no magic bullet and we can’t change the price of steel.”
Tata has yet to confirm job losses at its Scuthorpe, Dalzell and Clydebridge plants but union leaders fear an announcement is imminent, and were critical of the “slow” response from ministers. At Redcar, on Teesside, 2,200 jobs were lost when the Thai owners went into liquidation.
The TUC’s general secretary, Frances O’Grady, said of the latest threat to Tata’s plants: “This would be a hammer blow for British steelmaking and manufacturing in the UK. Ministers have been far too slow to wake up to the crisis facing heavy industry in Britain.
“Today’s crisis summit should have happened months ago, not at the 11th hour. The Government must now step in. The lack of a coherent industrial policy is costing the UK dear.”
Business leaders were equally forthright about the need for government action. John Cridland, the director general of the CBI, said: “To secure the future of our industrial base, the Government needs to work in partnership with businesses on a long-term industrial strategy.”
Gareth Stace, director of the UK Steel trade body, said: “I cannot emphasise enough that there is an urgency here and very little time before we start to see more job losses and companies facing intolerable pressure. This really is about saving Britain’s steel industry and time is of the essence.”
Included in the industry’s wishlist for government intervention is help in combating cheap imports from China, tax breaks to remove plant and machinery from business rates calculations, and help in lowering energy costs.
Roy Rickhuss, general secretary of the Community union, said after the summit: “The Secretary of State must now grasp the urgency of this situation. His willingness to listen was welcome, now he needs to show the political will to act.
“We do not want to see a repeat of the devastating situation in Redcar and nor should the Government.”
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