2015 Steel Summit Commitments

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 10:59 am on 10th July 2018.

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Photo of Anna Turley Anna Turley Labour/Co-operative, Redcar 10:59 am, 10th July 2018

My hon. Friend is right. It was the second-largest blast furnace in Europe and the coke ovens were fantastic; they were capable of producing much more, including foundry coke, for which there was a huge market. It had a huge role still to play in the British steel sector, and we did not have a strategic nationwide approach to looking at those assets and preserving the value they had for our economy and for the future. I know many hon. Friends here want to contribute and share their thoughts and experiences, so I will not take too much time, but I will just give an overview of where we were and where we are now.

First, I will start with electricity costs. We asked for help with bringing the cost of electricity in line with that of our EU counterparts. In 2015, the Government introduced compensation for energy-intensive industries a few months earlier than planned, but a large disparity between electricity prices in the UK and the EU still remains. It translates into a total additional cost to UK steel producers of around £43 million per year, or around 17% of the sector’s net earnings, which is a significant margin to be losing in excessive energy costs. Europe offers many examples of acceptable state aid solutions to the energy challenge, but the Government have not given any serious consideration to what we can do.

Secondly, I come to business rates, which irk sectors across the UK, not just steel. The sector has put forward a number of proposals, such as removing plant and machinery from business rates calculations or offsetting previous trading losses against future business rates, but change in this area has been met by resistance, even though the sector has committed to reinvesting any savings, which would have a huge impact on local steel-producing regions. That feels like a short-sighted approach from the Government, ignoring a powerful tool for incentivising capital investment, increasing the productivity of the sector and helping to deliver a northern powerhouse boost.

Thirdly, public procurement is another area where the UK has so much potential to support UK steel makers, especially through large infrastructure projects such as HS2 and the Heathrow expansion. I know that British Steel in my constituency has aspirations to win contracts on those projects, and many other colleagues will have similar ambitions for their areas. There has been a close working relationship between the sector and Government on procurement.