Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
It would be even better if another Yorkshire team, Sheffield Wednesday, joined Middlesbrough in a few weeks’ time. It is another steel football team.
I want to start by underscoring and supporting the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland about business rates, energy prices, Chinese dumping, skills retention and procurement, which are all very important. I will just add that the sales process that Tata is undertaking needs to hold to a deadline that allows for a sale that delivers responsible ownership for the future. There is a lack of confidence in the current deadline. The feeling is that it is not the right deadline, not the right timetable, so comments on that from the Government would be welcome.
In the previous debate on this issue, in the main Chamber, I spoke about speciality in my constituency. I talked about Tata in Stocksbridge and I will simply reiterate the point that we make some of the best steel in the world and we do that with the best workforce one could ask for. I will leave it at that. My key aim today is not to reiterate the comments that I made then, but to make the point that we have a responsibility not to lose that capacity, especially in such a strategically important industry, so in the rest of my speech, I will focus on making just two key points.
First, the role of the Government in the current situation demands leadership, as my hon. Friend pointed out. The Government have at last shown a willingness to engage, and we are obviously all very relieved about that. They have also demonstrated, I think and hope, that they will be pragmatic in their approach. However, we need the Government to fulfil a much more powerful role, that of strategic lead in ensuring that the Tata sales process is placed firmly in the context of how the industry needs to develop in the long term to secure its sustainability. We need that role to be taken on by the Government now with no more delays or prevarication. Will the Minister please give us that direction? Will she give us concrete actions that demonstrate confidence in the future of steel in the UK?
My second point relates to the importance of innovation in delivering sustainability, and I echo entirely the comments made by my hon. Friend. Innovation in manufacturing improves productivity and secures its future, and there is no better example of that than the steel city, Sheffield. Huntsman developed the crucible process in Sheffield and Harry Brearley developed stainless steel there. Bessemer built the first commercial application of the converter process in Sheffield, and that technology revolutionised steel making, improving its quality while lowering costs significantly, leading to a far wider range of applications for steel products. The steel city became the biggest steel producer in the world, mainly because of Bessemer and his process.
All Sheffielders are immensely proud of our city’s history and achievements. Steel is in the DNA of Sheffield. It is in our blood. We are also passionate about reasserting the fact that steel making is an industry of the future, not of the past. The impact that Bessemer’s technology had on steel making demonstrates entirely that that future depends on investment in research and development.
The Minister should put investment in innovation at the heart of her support for the steel industry and place it at the heart of the much-needed industrial strategy for steel. I can think of no better way of doing that than by announcing, as a matter of urgency, that some of the £500 million allocated to the Higher Education Funding Council for England will be brought forward to ensure a timely response to the needs of an industrial, rather than an academic, timetable. Whichever way the Minister does it, she should do it.
The Government need to signal quickly that they understand the importance of innovation to steel and manufacturing. By so doing, they will help to underpin the search for a new long-term ownership and sustainable future for Tata Steel, and they will underpin and make more robust the long-term prospects for the whole steel-making capacity of the UK.