Steel - urgent government action call

Unite GS Sharon Graham writes to prime minister urging him to take action to protect UK's sovereign steel making capability

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Sharon Graham, general secretary of Unite, has written to prime minister Rishi Sunak, calling for urgent action to protect the UK’s sovereign steel making capability. The letter was written in the wake of last week’s budget, which failed to deliver the comprehensive support package the industry urgently needs.

You can read the full text of the letter below:

Dear Prime Minister,

I was very disappointed not to hear more in today’s budget in way of support for the UK steel industry. It is now urgent for you to address the serious threats facing this sector. It is your government’s policy to grow foundation industries like steel, make them more internationally competitive and secure more jobs in them throughout the UK. But there is no sign that this is actually happening.

Instead the UK steel industry is shrinking, becoming less competitive and losing skilled jobs. This is a threat to thousands of workers and their families across Wales, the midlands, the North East and beyond. It is a threat to the very heart of the communities that surround them. And it is a threat to the future of our national security and our broader manufacturing and construction industries.

The government has legislated to reduce emissions to net zero by 2050. This means that to maintain UK steel production in future there needs to be proper support to transition from coke furnaces to new technologies using electricity or hydrogen. This will require billions of pounds of investment. While it is welcome that the government is now reportedly preparing £600 million of sector support, this is small beer compared to countries like Germany and the US that have already provided billions of pounds worth of public investment. We now need adequate funding in the UK and we need it tied to job protection guarantees. Intervention is essential but cannot be about rescue packages that only end up helping investors, while jobs disappear.

It is also shocking that a majority of our public infrastructure projects currently use imported steel. We need to ensure that from HS2 to offshore energy, all major UK infrastructure projects include obligations to procure UK-made steel. As a matter of national security, that also means ensuring that the UK has the capacity to make any specialist steel needed for national security projects, such as Royal Navy ships.

Finally, we need to tackle the energy costs that are the latest manifestation of a far larger ongoing crisis. As Unite has demonstrated, a central reason for high domestic and industrial energy prices is runaway profiteering by energy firms. For steelworkers the results are not only rising household bills but also the worry that their industry is being pushed to the brink by energy costs much higher than that of other steel producing nations. The government urgently needs to get a grip on those energy costs and to unplug the energy profiteers.

These issues all require urgent government action. I can assure you that Unite members are playing their part to deliver the future of their industry; it’s now time to make sure that government and industry do theirs. I look forward to hearing your response and remain available at all times to discuss this further.

Yours sincerely,

Sharon Graham, Unite general secretary