Like so many of the UK’s absolutely vital industries, the steel sector has been hit particularly hard by the coronavirus epidemic as orders have plummeted.
Unite has long been calling for the government to support the industry which has in recent years suffered under a global steel crisis, but the support needed now is more urgent than ever before.
Last week, Labour MP for Aberavon Stephen Kinnock told Parliament that Tata Steel, which owns the UK’s biggest steelworks in Port Talbot and has approached both Welsh and UK governments for help, would need at least £500m to see its way through the coronavirus crisis – or else risk total collapse.
Now shadow business secretary and former Labour leader Ed Miliband this week wrote to business secretary Alok Sharma to make the case for the UK’s steel industry, which he has said will play a key role in Britain’s economic recovery once the pandemic subsides.
“Ministers should boost the steel industry now as a cornerstone sector for a strong and sustained economic recovery,” Miliband wrote in a joint letter with shadow business minister Lucy Powell.
“Britain will need a resilient and revitalised manufacturing base in order to provide construction and infrastructure projects with a stable supply of domestic steel.
“The Government has signalled its intent to move ahead with £640billion of infrastructure projects.
“These projects could provide important opportunities for UK-based steel manufacturers if the Government does all it can to buy from domestic producers,” the letter continued.
“The Government’s HS2 project alone will require two million tonnes of steel over 10 years, and could provide a £1.5billion boost to our economy and safeguard thousands of steel jobs.”
Unite has long been campaigning for the government to take a proactive role in procurement for the UK’s domestic steel sector alongside the Mirror newspaper and others as part of the Save Our Steel campaign.
Unite national officer for steel Tony Brady explained why securing the steel industry’s future at a time of crisis will be essential for any future economic recovery.
“In these times of global crisis and uncertainty it is more important than ever that Britain’s foundation industries survive. It is imperative that we maintain our ability to domestically produce steel and that the UK Government puts every measure in place to ensure this happens,” he said.
“The UK steel industry is in crisis and there are a number of short-term and longer-term measures that have to be put in place very soon. In the shorter term our steel manufactures need help with liquidity to ensure that they survive the immediate downturn and retain their highly skilled workforce,” Brady added.
“In the longer term Government must ensure that our steel manufacturers are locked into the UK’s longer term infrastructure plan. UK steel must be used on all future domestic infrastructure products. The Governments stated aim of rebuilding Britain following the Covid19 crisis must the have support of UK manufacturing jobs at its very core.”
The latest plea from Labour and steel unions comes as the Treasury announced this week (May 25) that it would be developing an economic rescue plan – dubbed Project Birch – for large businesses in strategically important industries.
Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner welcomed news of the plan, noting, “We have to see the details, of course, but as a trade union we have been working hard with our industrial partners to persuade government of the need for long-term support for core industries and to build our way out of this crisis, saving jobs and skills.
“There is no more time to lose if we are to prevent a tsunami of job losses from sweeping through communities this summer,” he added.
“What we also need, and urgently, is phase two of the Job Retention Scheme, a recovery phase to assist us rebuilding our economy, supporting flexible and short-time working while we pull the economy out of its deep freeze and attempt to stimulate demand,” Turner went on to say.
“These measures must come quickly and go hand-in-hand with an immediate and strategic programme to create new green jobs as part of a just transition to replace those that we know will not be coming back.
“Recovery from this huge health and economic shock cannot be piecemeal. It has to be a national systematic effort, with the government, employers and unions working in partnership to repair and reshape our economy.”
By Hajera Blagg