I beg to move,
That this House
has considered the future of the former steelworks site in Redcar constituency.
It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, as always, Mrs Moon. I pay tribute to all colleagues who are here to support this debate. The former steel site in my constituency has huge implications for the entirety of the Tees valley, so I am pleased that colleagues from both sides of the House are here to work towards the future of the site. As someone once said, we are all in this together. Regionally, locally and nationally, it is vital that everyone does their bit to ensure we build up from the devastation three years ago and get our communities back on their feet. The site is the key to the future of the Tees valley economy.
I secured this debate to draw attention to the biggest opportunity for new industry and jobs in the UK, and hopefully to send a strong message to investors around the world that the Tees valley is open for business and has the Government’s full support behind it. The South Tees Development Corporation site covers almost 4,500 acres on the south bank of the river Tees. It was once the beating heart of industry, with shipyards, blast furnaces and chemical works lining its banks, and employed tens of thousands of people at its peak. On a visit to Teesside during the 19th-century boom, William Gladstone observed:
“This remarkable place, the youngest child of England’s enterprise, is an infant, but if an infant, an infant Hercules.”
Those booming, Herculean years sadly did not last forever. Although the area is still home to many successful businesses, its industrial footprint is significantly reduced and employment opportunities are much fewer. We aspire to rebirth the infant Hercules again by combining our great skills, infrastructure and our location in the north-east to build a new generation of industry and deliver growth across the Tees valley. Again, I welcome the support of colleagues from across the region. The jobs and investment that could be created in the Tees valley are of benefit to workers and businesses in every part of our area, and colleagues from all parties are lobbying hard for our region to get the support it needs.
The steelworks site—the epicentre of the devastation three years ago, from which our local economy has struggled to recover—must be seized as an opportunity to truly realise the northern powerhouse. The first mayoral development corporation outside London, led by cross-party politicians and local business, is working its socks off to realise the site’s potential. Our local master plan for creating 20,000 jobs on the site builds on interest from more than 100 global investors. Those investors and my constituents desperately need the work that I had in mind when I secured this debate.
The master plan demonstrates to the world that we have a clear vision in Teesside for the jobs we want to create. The support we have received so far from the Government, including the measures in the Budget, which I will speak about shortly, is a welcome demonstration that they have an appetite to help us deliver our vision. However, if investors are to commit to invest in Teesside, they need to know, when they head into negotiations with the development corporation, that the Government are fully behind the project. For investors to be confident that Teesside is the place to be, they need greater certainty that the development corporation is equipped with everything it needs to deliver the plan, and that the Government’s long-term financial commitment is certain. I seek those assurances from the Minister today.
First, I want to talk about some of the successes achieved by local people who have rolled up their sleeves and got on with driving our area forward. I am incredibly proud of the local teamwork to support people who lost their jobs at the steelworks, and to help many others into work. After the devastation three years ago, the community, local authorities, and local businesses, partners and politicians rallied together to put in place excellent support services. We did not just sit back, leaving the damage to smoulder.
I just want to send a message of solidarity from Lanarkshire, where Gartcosh closed in 1986 and Ravenscraig closed in 1992. Both are big scars in Scotland, and both are still empty fields. Housing is getting built, but the work promised to us is very slow. I totally agree with my hon. Friend about what we have seen at Redcar. Jobs need to come to the places that jobs were taken away from.
I really appreciate my hon. Friend’s intervention. He makes his case incredibly powerfully. In so many communities around our country—in both England and Scotland—we have seen the devastation that can happen when industry declines and nothing replaces it. The site is of such fundamental importance to our local economy, and we cannot just allow it to smoulder. We cannot allow those jobs and skills to be lost. The next generation must not feel that they have to move away. We have got to accelerate the progress today.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Teesside is proud of being somewhere that workers came to from across the country—Scotland, Durham and even the south-west of England—to build the infant Hercules. We are a proud place with people from across the country, who came together to find employment. We want to be a place that attracts people from around the country and the world.
We have used the resources locally that the Government gave us to develop business cases and our skills to drive our economic recovery in the aftermath of the closure. The SSI Task Force—a collaborative effort—has created more than 2,000 jobs, supported 336 business start-ups and overseen the delivery of more than 17,000 training courses to support redundant SSI workers back into employment. Working with private sector partners such as MGT Teesside, award-winning employment and training hubs have ensured that local people are able to benefit from the jobs created by big new investment projects. The Grangetown training and employment hub in my constituency, jointly supported by Future Regeneration of Grangetown, the council and MGT, has already made great progress. Some 2,500 residents have been registered, 1,700 have undertaken training programmes, and 610 have been supported into work, 470 of whom were previously unemployed. A similar scheme in Skinningrove, in the constituency of Mr Clarke, has been supporting employees made redundant from the Boulby potash mine, providing access to training, jobs fairs and support for those who want to set up their own businesses.
Local people are taking up the entrepreneurial spirit and setting up on their own. Independent shops and bars are starting to fill some of the empty units on our high streets, and some are run by former steelworkers. Our high streets still need support from things such as business rates, but the energy of local people is already driving their revival. Support from the local council to improve shop fronts, bring empty buildings back into use, and improve and expand accommodation on our industrial estates is also helping.
Big investors are also showing confidence in our area, which speaks well for the potential of the SSI site. MGT is investing £650 million in its new biomass power plant at Teesport. Just down the road in Whitby, in the constituency of Mr Goodwill, Sirius Minerals is investing $4.2 billion in its polyhalite mine, with the material transported to an processed at Wilton International in my constituency. PD Ports and Redcar Bulk Terminal suffered significantly after the loss of the steelworks contracts. In just three years, they have reversed the damage, and have continued to build their businesses, bringing in millions of pounds of investment. They have not waited around or prevaricated; they have got on with it, showing the resilience and determination of our area.
On Teesport, does my hon. Friend agree that we need to have a serious discussion about the port’s future in respect of the idea of free ports post Brexit to generate more income for the area?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have had some really positive cross-party discussions about a free port in Teesport. The potential to create jobs, attract investment and elevate the area on the global stage is huge. We have got to ensure we get it right, but there is massive potential there, Brexit or no Brexit.
I want to talk a bit about the opportunities on the SSI site. We are building on a strong foundation of public and private sector talent and on Teesside’s determination. We have the same ambitions for the steel site and a strong local team of business leaders, local authority officers and cross-party politicians, who are all working hard to deliver on those ambitions. There are many innovative projects with an interest in the site—from energy generation and materials processing to rail and renewables—and lots to get excited about. Much of the detail is protected for commercial reasons, but some of the details have been reported in the local media. Metal production could be coming back to the site, with proposals for an aluminium cast-house facility. A £5 billion energy plant focused on clean gas is also in the pipeline, and will potentially create thousands of jobs.
I secured this debate not simply to congratulate everyone and say that everything is marvellous. I am afraid it is not. I am already aware of two big investments that will now go elsewhere, attracted by better support. The first is by the chemicals company INEOS, which was looking to Teesside as the location for its new 4x4 manufacturing plant for Projekt Grenadier. That £600 million investment could have created more than 1,000 new jobs. The South Tees site and a location in Germany were shortlisted, but it was announced just over a week ago that the company may now look to Wales instead. That is a big lost opportunity for the regeneration of the development corporation site and for jobs on Teesside. The car industry is one of our region’s key strengths—the supply chain is well developed and we have a great skilled workforce.
The other lost investment I am aware of is by a major steel company with significant UK operations, which was looking to develop an electric arc furnace on Teesside, building on the excellent research into electric steelmaking by the Materials Processing Institute in South Bank. That would have returned primary steelmaking to Teesside, continuing our long and proud history of doing that. Instead, the company is now looking at a more attractive offer from the devolved Government in Scotland.
We must ask why those companies made those decisions. I believe the Government could have given them more certainty and financial support. I highlight those incidents not to spread doom and gloom—I know how important it is to talk up the area—but we need to recognise what is at stake if we cannot secure the confidence of those who are looking to invest.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right that it is disappointing that the Land Rover Defender plant will not come to Teesside, but does she recognise that the site that has been allocated is an existing Ford automotive plant where there are a lot of skills? No doubt it was that, rather than the fact that the Government were not prepared to support Teesside, that tipped the balance.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that intervention, but that just demonstrates the urgency of the need to sort the site out and get it ready. We just cannot compete with other sites if we still do not own the site and it needs huge investment to get it ready. That is why this debate is so urgent.
Brilliant companies are investing in our area. I have mentioned Sirius’s $4.2 billion project. At full production, that will have the ability to increase the size of the Tees valley economy by 18%, and some 800 people are already working on the site. However, to reach its full potential, that project, like others I have mentioned, will require a Treasury guarantee to match commercially raised funds.
I sincerely hope that the Government back up our local ambitions with the finance necessary to support that project and others, and that they avoid their natural inclination to be risk averse when it comes to backing such major projects. I urge them to believe in us in the Tees valley and in the companies that want to invest in great projects there. I am raising a warning flag. The Government must pull their weight and put the required money behind those bids, or we will continue to lose out to devolved or other nations.
The biggest barrier to realising our ambitions is the ownership of the charge on the former SSI land, which remains with the Thai banks. That is holding back progress. Negotiations with those banks are ongoing following the signature of a memorandum of understanding between the banks and the development corporation in May. That was due to expire at the end of October, but I understand it has been extended until early next year, although no press release was issued to acknowledge that. The local team is working hard, supported by funding from the local councils, to conclude a deal for the SSI land and for land owned by others, such as Tata. It is hindered in those efforts by premature announcements of multi-million pound investments that are some way off. Such announcements put at risk the chance of securing an affordable, locally negotiated deal, and risk raising local expectations. Of course, we have compulsory purchase as a backstop should those efforts fail. That process has started—landowners know they will receive nothing for the land should a deal fail.
As a first step, we need the Government to do everything in their power to support ongoing negotiations and ensure that they result in a successful agreement at the earliest opportunity. If that involves providing funding to seal the deal, that option must be on the table. Failure to gain ownership of the land and assets is holding everything back, and Ministers need to go beyond ad hoc funding commitments to provide confidence that long-term support will be forthcoming.
That brings me to funding. Before the Budget, the development corporation had just £5 million to progress regeneration work, which is not enough to get the land ready. Given the complexity of the industrial assets involved and the huge amount of work that needs to be done to clean up the site, that will cost an awful lot of money—£5 million will not stretch far. Although the management funding of £118 million in last year’s Budget was welcome, it was just keep-safe money that the Government had a legal duty to provide to protect the public from industrial hazards. It was the absolute minimum required to keep the site safe and protect the lives of those who work there and of the local community. It was also aimed at reducing the Government’s management costs.
In this year’s Budget, three years on, the Government announced that the site is to become a special economic zone. It is not yet clear what that actually means. At this stage, the extra powers the area will be granted for being such a zone are limited to being able to retain 100% of business rates growth. There is little difference between such a zone and existing enterprise zones, of which we already have plenty around the Tees valley, and that power is already granted to local authorities. Business rates retention will increase to 75% in 2020-21 and to 100% for the pilot schemes that are already under way in 20 local authority areas.
I was concerned that that change would mean taking money that would otherwise have been received by Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council, placing the cost on local people and public services. However, answers to written questions I tabled following the Budget reassure me that that will not be the case. All business rates growth over and above the current baseline will be retained locally and shared between the development corporation and the borough council according to a formula that is still to be agreed.
Although it makes sense that the private sector should help to fund the ongoing development of the site, I am concerned that progress will be extremely slow if that is the main source of funding for regeneration. That mechanism will begin to pay off only when new industries are established, and as we do not yet own the land, that is some time away. We would like reassurance from Ministers that that will not be the limit of central Government’s contribution to the clean-up of the site, not including their long-term legal responsibility to keep the site safe.
I recognise that the Budget also included £14 million to support short-term measures to help unlock two projects on the most shovel-ready land, which is currently owned by Tata. That is obviously welcome, but in the grand scheme of things it is a very limited measure when compared with the many millions that will be needed not only to prepare land but to provide crucial infrastructure.
It is really important that we clarify that that £14 million is instrumental to ensuring that those two sites are available for two metals projects that will create 1,500 jobs. Although in isolation those projects represent small parts of sites, they are viable and ready to roll, and they will create real jobs in a very short period of time.
Absolutely. It is great to see those projects, but three years on we are still waiting for one job to be created. I cannot wait for those jobs to be developed. I welcome the £14 million in the Budget—that is positive—but we want more, and we want the pace to be quicker. That £14 million is not sufficient to undo the damage to the local economy, which lost 3,000 jobs, with the average salary declining by £10,000. The impact of that is not sustainable. We need jobs as quickly as possible. I welcome that start, but we must accelerate.
The £14 million also depends on a successful business case being presented to the Government and on businesses being prepared to invest. I have warned about lost projects for exactly that reason: there is no guarantee that interest will turn into real investment if there is not confidence in the site.
One of our biggest warnings when the steelworks closed was that the longer-term cost of managing and regenerating the site would far exceed the limited funding needed to mothball the blast furnace and keep the coke ovens alive. Given that the Government decided not to do that, despite their offering to step in to save Port Talbot a few months later, the onus remains on them to pick up the tab for the consequences. There can be no backing out. I wrote at the time to the Secretary of State:
“Any attempt by the Government to divest itself of this responsibility, without a proper jointly developed strategy, would be challenged.”
That is therefore what people would expect me to do should I begin to have concerns. I also remind everyone that, after his appointment as Government investment tsar for the Tees valley, Michael Heseltine said:
“The money to clean up the site will be what it costs. No-one knows what the condition of the site is and although there have been estimates, they are estimates based on guess work. So it is much better to make it clear, central government will pay the clean-up costs and underwrite them whatever the bill comes to.”
As we head to the comprehensive spending review in the spring, my constituents and I are looking to the Government to provide the guarantees we need that sufficient funding will be made available to help realise our ambitions. The site is and will remain a high-risk proposition for new investors until the Government confirm that they will provide the financial backing they promised in 2015. That would mean the STDC being able to purchase the land, start real investment in infrastructure, as set out in the masterplan, and ensure that new investors can invest with confidence. Without that, I fear the development corporation will follow the lead of INEOS and turn elsewhere. I really hope it does not come to that. That is why I was so determined to make the case for funding at the time of the Budget and why I secured this debate. We need a guarantee that when we have the land, the Government will stand fully behind us for the long haul.
I want to mention additional powers. Beyond central Government funding, there are other areas where the development corporation needs to be granted sufficient resources to maximise its potential. It needs to be able to offer financial incentives to potential investors so it is on the same level as other areas in the UK. Those may include enhanced capital allowances, which would help businesses on the site to invest in new technology and machinery—especially low-carbon, green infrastructure, on which we are keen to take a lead in the Tees valley. Powers to enhance the development corporation’s ability to raise cash for infrastructure, such as tax increment financing, would also be helpful. This would be a logical extension of the business rates retention scheme that has already been announced. I would like to know that Ministers are looking to expand the powers available through the special economic zone, which would offer further reassurance to investors as well.
Investing in infrastructure will also be an extremely important factor. Remediating the land, where necessary, is the first step. However, turning that land into a modern industrial site, with the roads, rail and services needed to function well and attract new investment, is crucial.
One especially important area is power, as affordable energy is vital if the site is to remain attractive to potential investors. As my Tees Valley colleagues and I have told the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the cap on the amount of electricity that can be supplied without paying supply levies on the private wire network operated by Sembcorp could be a deterrent to new industries.
Our local master plan sets out a vision for mixed energy sources focused on renewables, and includes the potential for either a gas or biomass-fuelled power plant. This will require significant investment, and in the medium term we have an established business here that is ready to invest its own resources in the development of a power plant, which could provide the affordable power needed for new industries looking at the site.
In conclusion, this issue is of overwhelming importance to my constituents. Barely a weekend goes by without people asking me what is happening on the site and when they will begin to see jobs. I know that locally everyone is working their socks off, and I pay tribute to all on the development corporation board, many of whom give up their time voluntarily.
However, I am afraid that I cannot bite my tongue as press releases lauding success continue to fly past when there is not yet a single new job on the site, and when we appear no nearer to a breakthrough on the ownership issue, or to seeing a firmer commitment from the Government on funding the overall clear-up. Although I understand the importance of commercial sensitivities and will always abide by them, it is important for the community and the country that there is some accountability about where we are and what is behind the delay.
I sincerely hope that this speech can prompt a constructive debate that is free from party politicking. No one here is talking Teesside down; we all want the best for the area, and we all know the brilliance and the potential of our constituents and our communities. This effort is a sincere and earnest one to do what I have pledged to do about something that is the responsibility of us all: to fight tooth and nail to secure the jobs and investment for this site and the wider Tees Valley, and to ensure the Government keep their promises and do right by the people we represent.
It is a pleasure to see you in your place, Mrs Moon.
I congratulate Anna Turley on securing today’s debate. It is on a very important issue—one that goes to the heart of what is happening on Teesside at the moment—and I join her in celebrating the achievements of so many local businesses, large and small, which we get to see week in, week out. They are brilliant and inspirational. I never cease to be amazed at the sheer range, scope and skill of the industrial base of the Tees Valley. It is remarkable; indeed, it is a national asset of the first order.
The hon. Lady’s constituency and mine lie at the heart of the project to deliver growth, jobs and prosperity in Redcar and Cleveland, which centres on the former steelworks site. There is no downplaying the social and economic magnitude of the closure of the steelworks in 2015. Everyone on Teesside felt the consequences, and everyone on Teesside was devastated for the workforce and their families. The closure was not their fault; the truth is that the headwinds confronting steelmaking at Redcar were strong and kept blowing in.
The mothballing of the site was announced in 2009, and after SSI reopened it in 2011 it made a loss in every subsequent year of operation. Amid the desolation that followed liquidation in October 2015, the Government made a promise, which I am proud to say is being honoured. That promise was that a new beginning would be made on this iconic site, underpinned by huge Government support to secure and remediate the land, and anchored in private sector-led growth and investment.
A vast amount of taxpayers’ money has been pledged, with £137 million awarded to the site in the 17 months that I have been a Member of this House. A further £74 million for transport improvements across the Tees Valley has been pledged, which Andy McDonald will know well, as he is the shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
This funding is being directed through true local devolution, in the form of the Tees Valley mayoralty. The Tees Valley Mayor has a set of powers that are the most extensive of any devolved region of England outside London, backed by the personal commitment of the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, who grew up in South Bank, and supported by the Prime Minister, who came up in person in August 2017 to launch the South Tees Development Corporation, which covers the steelworks site. Over the past year, the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister have been joined by a whole series of ministerial colleagues, all of whom came away from the area with renewed understanding of, and enthusiasm for, the scale of the opportunity represented by the largest brownfield regeneration project in Europe.
The development corporation’s master plan is to create 20,000 skilled jobs on the site over the next 25 years. We are just into the second year of that plan. Surveys of the 2,200 acres of developable land are now 90% complete and 1,500 exploratory holes have been drilled and analysed—the land proving much cleaner than had originally been anticipated.
The first new staff are currently being recruited for MGT’s £650 million biomass plant, which is located at the development corporation. It is the world’s largest biomass plant and is nearing completion; it is now looking for around 50 local workers. Likewise, a £250 million energy from waste plant, run by PMAC Energy, has been announced on the Redcar bulk terminal land, 50% of which is owned by SSI in receivership.
I completely agree with the hon. Member for Redcar that clean energy must lie at the heart of our local economy in future, and it would be remiss not to say a word to the Minister about carbon capture, utilisation and storage. We are entering a pivotal month for CCUS and I really hope that when the Government make their announcement they will back the idea of two dedicated clusters to develop roll-out of the technology; if they do so, I think all of us here today would join together in making the case—already so ably made by Alex Cunningham, who chairs the all-party parliamentary group on carbon capture and storage—that one of those clusters should be located in the Tees Valley. That would be a fantastic opportunity for both our local economy and the UK’s green credentials, and indeed it would be the only realistic way of delivering on our Paris climate commitments.
I return to the issue of the steelworks site. The combined authority in the area has now received more than 100 serious inquiries about investment on the site, with a first-phase pipeline worth upwards of £10 billion. That is being complemented by other enormous economic ventures. I am delighted to see my right hon. Friend Mr Goodwill present in Westminster Hall today. The £3.2 billion Woodsmith polyhalite mine, just outside Whitby, is a transformative economic venture; it will add roughly a sixth to the entire value of the Tees Valley economy, and the mineral that it produces will be shipped underneath East Cleveland and taken through to Teesport for distribution across the world. It is incredibly exciting. I visited the site in the summer; it is truly extraordinary and what is being achieved there will be of national significance.
We also have the prospect of a freeport; I was delighted that Mike Hill mentioned that prospect. However, we need to be very clear that it will simply not be possible for us to achieve the type of freeport to which we are right to aspire, if we do not leave the European Union, if we do not leave the customs union and if we do not break free to some degree from the EU state aid rules, which would make it very hard to deliver the freedoms that we want and need to see.
At the heart of all this work, all of which I hope comes off, is Ben Houchen. The leadership that Ben has shown has been transformational. As a colleague, I can testify that he works to the point of exhaustion and displays unceasing commitment to engaging with businesses, foreign investors and the Government, to stand up for Teesside.
The hon. Gentleman has acknowledged the role that Ben Houchen has played. Will he also acknowledge that the Tees Valley Combined Authority is actually made up of the five leaders of the local authorities and the directly elected Mayor, and that together they are contributing to this plan and this development?
I absolutely will. It is hugely important that this work draws together the six figures who make up the board. Ben provides exemplary leadership in his role as the first directly elected Mayor of the area, but he would be the first to say that it would be impossible to achieve anything without buy-in from Hartlepool, Darlington, Stockton, Redcar and Cleveland, and Middlesbrough. It is a team effort. The project transcends party politics. It must; otherwise it will fail.
The hon. Gentleman interrupted my thread about Ben’s role. Let me pick it up by saying that Ben led the Tees Valley’s first trade mission to the far east earlier this year. He led a delegation of local representatives in discussions with the three Thai banks that hold an interest in the former SSI land on the development corporation site. An agreement in principle was reached, which expires in February 2019, to transfer that land and its assets to the local public sector. In parallel, compulsory purchase proceedings have begun, to ensure that the land is back under local control as soon as possible. Separately, there is good reason to believe that a good deal to release the half of the site that is owned by Tata can be achieved in short order.
I just wonder about the potential for agreement. Surely the Government should be working for an agreement with the Thai banks, rather than taking the compulsory purchase route which, by the time the lawyers get involved, could take years.
The Government have put themselves four-square behind the initiative to release that land. When Ben went to Thailand to meet the banks, the full support of the British embassy was thrown behind him. I know that Ben is genuinely appreciative of the massive efforts made by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, as well as the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, to make certain that we communicate to the Thai Government—as well as to the banks—that this issue is of material interest to Her Majesty’s Government, and that there is an international diplomatic aspect to the need to release the land as quickly as possible.
None of this work is easy. Alex Cunningham is right that some of it will take years; there is no point in sugar-coating that. None of this lends itself to quick fixes, but critical progress is being made. We are much further forward from the ashes of October 2015 than we were in 2017 or 2016, and as a result, Ben’s work has been widely welcomed in our community. In September, he was voted “most inspiring person” by Tees Valley business leaders, and my constituents recognise that he is doing his utmost.
There is an upsurge of quiet positivity on Teesside, backed by analysis from the Bank of England showing that the number of unemployed people in the north-east is down by 18,000 on a year ago, and that our region accounted for almost a quarter of the entire reduction in UK unemployment over the past 12 months. The devolution of skills strategy to the north-east, and the £24 million that has been announced for our local schools through Opportunity North East—which aims to make the transition from primary to secondary education better and more effective, working in the interests of local young people—will add to that positivity, and I stand behind those announcements. As a proud Teessider, I recognise that the South Tees Development Corporation site is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our area, and I am determined that we should seize it.
Here we come to the crux of the matter. I am a realist about elective politics. At present, a gulf exists between the Conservative and Labour parties about our values, our economic strategy and our role in the world; but we have a responsibility to work together, as the hon. Member for Redcar said. It is, of course, the right and the responsibility of the Opposition to hold the Government to account in a spirit of constructive criticism, but we must avoid crossing the line into casting gloom or negativity over our area’s prospects. That is a fine judgment call, but I have the sense that whatever the Government offer is not enough, and nothing Ben achieves is right. That is not because Opposition Members have a better alternative; it is, I fear, because Ben and the Government are Conservatives. We have to push back against that. If the choice is between anger and hope, I am clear that anger will not triumph over the hope of new beginnings and a fresh start for our area. We must not dampen the public’s enthusiasm, and we must not spook investors about the economic prospects of our area.
Following the Budget, we heard a powerful intervention from Steve Gibson—the man who has been a beacon of hope for Teessiders since the 1980s—calling for an end to the downplaying of what has been achieved.
And the same Steve Gibson who endorsed the Labour candidate for the mayoralty of the Tees Valley in those self-same elections that spring. He has done more for our local economy, local football team and local identity than any of us has ever done. He is held in the highest regard and esteem by thousands of people across our area, and he should be listened to on these issues.
Likewise, after the 2017 Budget, the then-managing director of Trinity Mirror, Bob Cuffe, had cause to say:
“Breaking News. Yesterday Teesside was at risk of an outbreak of optimism and hope. Families wondering if potentially good news had broken out. Thankfully Loyal Labour Forces came out quickly with Party Gloom Blankets to try and extinguish the hope.”
Today I add my voice to their pleas: let us draw a line under this before real damage is done. Let us focus on the undoubted opportunity that lies ahead and work together to build a better future for the Tees Valley.
The entire development corporation project and the Mayor’s office are funded publicly, in a manner that is completely open to public scrutiny. As with all devolved administrations across the country, the Mayor’s Office is there to champion the interests of the local area. It requires a certain amount of staffing to do that, but I think that the leadership that is being shown from that office is absolutely integral to our hopes as an area of standing up on the stage alongside big cities such as Newcastle and Leeds, which have traditionally had a much louder voice than areas such as the Tees valley. With the disparate cluster of local authorities, we have not been able to speak with one voice. What has been achieved through devolution has astonished me. I was a sceptic about the devolution model; I thought it might just add another tier of intermediate, ineffective and bureaucratic government. It has done the opposite: it has leveraged an extraordinary amount of localised control and, more than that, has created a platform for Teesside to speak out nationally and internationally. That is a wonderful thing.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way so generously. Does he acknowledge that it was the five Labour leaders of the local authorities who took that bold step in order to achieve the devolution deal, at a time when others were very sceptical about it, and that it is Labour that is making a really good contribution to the future of the Teesside economy?
I welcome the fact that Labour bought into this achievement. It took real vision; the Tees Valley has shown much greater foresight on this issue than Newcastle and Sunderland, which have proven much more sceptical and have accordingly lost time in the move towards devolution. Of course, it would be very remiss not to pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman’s predecessor as Member for Stockton South, James Wharton, who was the relevant Minister at the time. It was his deal that the local authorities signed up to, and it was only thanks to him that powers of such breadth have been devolved and are there to be enjoyed by the people of our area.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Anna Turley on securing the debate and for talking up our area—the positive things that are happening in our communities—but also for laying out the greater challenges that it faces. We are here to discuss the former steelworks site, where many of my constituents spent their working life before SSI walked out on our community and the Government failed to act to save steelmaking on Teesside. Local people still ask, “Why can Governments bail out banks for billions of pounds, and bail out other industries, including the steel industry in other parts of the country, but when it came to intervening to save that site in Teesside, they just walked away?”
Today’s debate is as relevant to my constituents as it was three years ago, when many of them lost their jobs virtually overnight. It is relevant because the latest statistics, published yesterday, show an increase in unemployment in my constituency. Many of my constituents look to the Government to act, but it appears that the Government have just been putting on an act. A procession of Ministers has visited Teesside to talk the area up, but talk is all we have had. When those Ministers came to the area and made their various announcements, they did not invite Redcar’s local Member of Parliament to join them. We all want to work together, yet we constantly find ourselves excluded. There have been dozens of press releases from the Mayor of the Tees Valley promising investment, but little if any has been delivered to date.
When MPs speak up to ask questions about what is happening and to demand answers, they are accused of talking the area down, putting investment in jeopardy and somehow working against those who are trying to solve the problems that we all face. I am sick and tired of that. None of us went into politics to talk our area down; we went into politics to work with whoever can deliver for our people. If that were not the case—as my hon. Friend Dr Williams, my near neighbour, has already said—why on earth would our local authorities, which have worked so well together for donkey’s years, press for a devolution deal with a Government they know to have stripped tens of millions of pounds from our local council services? It was because they wanted to achieve something. They wanted the crumbs that were coming from the Government’s table, because they would make that little bit of difference on Teesside.
It is, however, a fact that there has been a real lack of progress in bringing jobs and investment to the site and, for that matter, to other parts of the Tees Valley. Yes, there are legal issues to be resolved and land ownership to be sorted out, but it has been three years since the last steel was produced and not a single long-term job has been created on the site.
My real worry is not just that the Government are failing to deliver for the site, but that the local authorities, in the form of the combined authority and the metro Mayor, will never see the promise of the heavy money to develop the site fulfilled, because that is billions of pounds. Yes, there have been plenty of announcements and repeat announcements, but we need the Government to take real action, resolving the legal problems. We hear that progress is being made and that things are being done behind closed doors. We do not know the detail, but I know that it is not creating jobs.
More than ever, in the face of the uncertainty that Brexit brings, Teesside industry needs assurance and confidence in the UK. Mr Clarke talked about the fact that I chair the all-party parliamentary group on carbon capture and storage, and the importance of a project on that. I also chair the APPG on energy intensive industries. Those in industry on Teesside are beyond nervous about Brexit and what it means for them.
As a result of the proposed changes to the emissions trading scheme and escalating energy costs, we are facing a perfect storm that could land our big industries carbon tax bills running into millions, and cost hundreds more jobs on Teesside and thousands more across the country. We need an environment that can attract investors to the region, but daily news releases promising much but delivering nothing will not do that.
That includes a future for our Durham Tees Valley airport—a future that is more in doubt each day. That airport, and connectivity with London and the rest of the country, is crucial in attracting investors to the Redcar site and to elsewhere on Teesside. The Mayor promised to buy the airport, but we know that there is no more credibility to that plan than to his plan to achieve protected food status for the parmo, which doctors describe as a heart attack on a plate.
On the point about the parmo, I do not believe in the nanny state telling us what we should and should not eat. I love the parmo, and I will be the first to stand up for it. Everything in moderation.
On the airport, a non-disclosure agreement has been signed with Peel, the operators. I really do not think it is helpful or right to prejudice the status of those talks by dismissing the plan as something that will not happen. Precisely that attitude, frankly, led to Ben winning the mayoralty in the first place.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is blessed, like me, with a slim figure and a fast metabolism, and will be able to cope with the odd parmo. We have a duty to be held accountable and to hold others accountable for what they have said they will do, and we have to press on whether or not negotiations are going on elsewhere. The plans to develop the airport are shrouded in secrecy. The parties involved are bound by confidentiality agreements, and those of us who are asking questions on behalf of the people we represent are getting very limited answers.
We know some things though. We know that the £5 million grant to create an access road to the south side of the airport to allow further development has been allowed to lapse. Why? In reply to a letter from me, the chairman of Peel Group, which owns 90% of the airport, said that his company has invested £40 million in the loss-making airport in recent years. He does not confirm that the airport will close in 2021 when the current agreements run out, but I fear that that is exactly what is on the cards if the Mayor fails to sort this out.
The final sentence of Robert Hough’s letter does tell a story. He apologies for not being able to be more helpful, and adds:
“We hope that we will receive support from the Combined Authority to take the airport forward in the most sensible and appropriate way, but the ball is not in our court.”
That means that the ball is in the Mayor’s court—the man who blocked a grant to the airport to attract more holiday flights just last year. I have every respect for the Minister, having worked opposite him when he was pensions Minister, and I am sure he will confirm that the Government are not going to bail the Mayor out and use public money to buy the airport. Who is going to buy an airport that continues to lose millions? I certainly do not want Tees Valley council tax payers to pick up that bill. It is time the secrecy was ended and we started to get answers on how the Mayor is going to buy the airport.
Secrecy, however, is the order of the day for this Government. A Public Accounts Committee report published yesterday said that “excessive secrecy” was standing in the way of, among others, the chemical industry preparing for Brexit. There appear to be plenty of secrets around the SSI site too. Budgets have come and gone, with millions of pounds allocated to the South Tees Development Corporation, but we know that most of that was just to cover the ongoing costs of keeping the site safe. Some of the delegated powers, such as devolution of the further education budget, have been delivered, fulfilling part of the agreement made with the combined authority long before we even had a Mayor. I now appeal to the Minister to provide the kind of clarity that we all need, but particularly the clarity needed by the combined authority to make the real decisions that deliver investment and jobs.
Sadly, the upshot of failing to do that could be industry looking elsewhere—we have heard some illustrations of that this morning—rather than waiting for a suitable site that does not appear to be coming to fruition. We have been told that more than 100 investors have declared an interest in the site, but some of that interest is already waning over false promises and a clear lack vision. We do not need another news release. We need the Government to take real, decisive action now.
If the Minister takes nothing else from today’s debate, it should be the commitment of all parties and all players in the Teesside area to ensuring that the site, which sadly no longer produces steel, is seen as a big opportunity, as Anna Turley said at the start of her speech. With the Mayor of Tees Valley, Ben Houchen, leading on that, we are in a good position to mobilise everyone to make sure that it happens.
The Labour party has learned some harsh lessons about that. I was the candidate in Redcar in 1992, standing against Marjorie Mowlam. I do not think that Marjorie would have stood by in the way that her successor did, and not fought tooth and nail to keep that site. Labour learned that harsh lesson at the ballot box when a large Labour majority was swept away by a Liberal Democrat who did fight for the site.
Does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that the steps taken by the Labour Government at that time mothballed the site and kept it open for another investor to come along and bring it back to life? The problem was that in 2015 this Government just turned off the switch and closed it, when they could have invested and kept it open like the Labour Government did.
I would leave that to the people of Redcar, who took that judgment in 2010 and did not feel that their Member of Parliament at the time had the commitment. I would not lay the same charge at the hon. Lady’s door. She has fought tooth and nail for that site, and has possibly learned some of the lessons of the past. People do understand whether a Member really is committed to the local people and industry, rather than seeing a constituency as a convenient place to get elected and then pursuing their career nationally.
As candidate, I visited the site on a number of occasions. At the time the blast furnace was operating at full bore, having recently been refurbished. I was shown two concrete bases on the South Gare site for the second and third blast furnaces that were due to be installed there. Indeed, we visited the basic oxygen steelmaking plant—the BOS plant—which at the time was colouring everything in the area with red dust, so some people in the area might not rue the passing of that big concrete building, which was where the crucibles of iron were blasted with oxygen and turned into steel.
On the subject of steel, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that thankfully the steel industry still thrives to a degree in Hartlepool, where our 84-inch, 42-inch and 20-inch pipe mills have brought much investment and many jobs to the area? While I have the Minister’s attention, will he confirm that as part of the growth for Hartlepool, a replacement for our nuclear power station is very much online, as per discussions that we have had in the past?
Absolutely. The steel industry has a future in the UK, but it is in specialist products, such as those produced in Skinningrove and Hartlepool. Sadly, we can no longer compete with the Koreans and Chinese in the production of bulk steel. The steel industry was based on Teesside because of the ironstone and coal mines up the coast. Now that we no longer have that resource on our doorstep, it is more difficult to be competitive in the steel industry, but we have expertise in specialist steels, stainless steels and specialist products, which I believe have a great future. Indeed, we have a strong automotive industry in this country to consume the steel that is being produced. I do think that there is a future for steel in the UK, but sadly it is no longer on the British Steel site that I visited with Peter Lilley, the then Secretary of State for Trade.
I mentioned opportunities on the site. The people of Tees Valley have put their trust in Ben Houchen as Mayor because they have memories of feeling let down in the past. They have opted for optimism, rather than for the negativity that was part of the other side’s campaign. I am very pleased that Ben is working collaboratively with local authorities and with the industry to deliver in the area, as my hon. Friend Mr Clarke recounted.
I must mention the Sirius mining project, which will transform my constituency. There are already 600 people working on the Woodsmith mine site, boring a mile down the shaft to the polyhalite—an amazing resource that will make the UK a global supplier of fertilisers once again. The Boulby mine is coming to the end of its natural life and has already ceased production of muriate of potash, but it is getting into polyhalite; indeed, I have bought some to use on my own farm. There are opportunities.
As the Minister is in the room, it is important to acknowledge that we have only two fertiliser plants in the whole UK, one of which is in Stockton North, my constituency. Both plants are run by CF Fertilisers, and both are extremely worried by the Government’s proposals for a post-Brexit carbon tax, which they believe could ruin their business. Will the right hon. Gentleman join me in calling on the Minister for clarity on the matter, so that the existing fertiliser plants can continue to have a future?
Yes. I have visited the Billingham plant, and I know that ammonium nitrate is a very important plant nutrient. The development of shale gas is key. Ammonium nitrate is basically made from air and gas, so without a good, cheap and reliable source of gas, its production is under threat. The sooner we get on with fracking for that gas so that we have our own domestic supply, the better it will be for all the energy-intensive industries on Teesside, not least the fertiliser industry.
The potash site will transform the area by providing jobs, and not only to people in Whitby. Of those who are already working at the Boulby mine, about half are from the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, about a quarter are from the constituency of the hon. Member for Redcar, and about a quarter are from my own. We already have a lot of people working in the mining industry, and it is important that they be redeployed as Boulby comes to the end of its natural life. The 23-mile tunnel from Whitby to Teesport is a phenomenal project that people around the world are observing with awe.
We need the Government to get behind the project. The hon. Member for Redcar mentioned Treasury guarantees; this is a very big project for a very small start-up company that will be an FTSE 200 company on the day it opens production. We need that support, because it would be a great shame to see other mining companies from around the world coming in and capitalising on the project after all the work that has gone into it. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will pass those thoughts on to the Treasury, because we need that backing. We are talking about 1,000 full-time jobs in the mining industry for at least 100 years. This is a product that people will always need; as long as people are eating, they will need nitrogen, phosphate and potash. The Woodsmith mine is a great source of potash.
As a farmer, the right hon. Gentleman knows all about fertilisers. May I seek clarity on what he said about workers at the Boulby potash mine transferring to the new mine? Is something happening at Boulby that we do not know about?
Boulby has been losing staff over the past few years and its production is being scaled down. It is already approaching the end of the muriate of potash seam—the potassium chloride seam—and is now in the lower seam of polyhalite, which is what the Woodsmith mine will produce. All mines have a natural life.
There is no question but that Boulby has gone through a profound and difficult transition over the past year, with approximately 90 compulsory redundancies, but the owners would certainly want me to emphasise that they are still looking at a long-term future at Boulby. There may well be a transfer of staff between the two mines, but as far as I am aware, Boulby is not under any threat of closure or loss.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, but the scale of operation at Boulby has reduced because of the switch from potassium chloride, which requires a lot of processing on the site. Polyhalite is a material that can be used straight away without any additional processing, so it qualifies as an organic fertiliser and many producers of organic food can capitalise on it. Indeed, one of the great things about Boulby’s mining polyhalite is that we can now start to develop markets for it around the world as it becomes available. Otherwise, we would not have had a new fertiliser product that is available for field trials, developing countries and big agricultural economies around the world, and that can be sourced from my constituency and exported to the world through that great facility, the deep-water port on the Tees.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon, and I congratulate Anna Turley on securing this important debate.
I want to speak about my constituency’s experience of a steel plant closing down, because there are valuable lessons to be learned from it. The Ravenscraig integrated steel mill closed 26 years ago in 1992. That was before devolution, so there was no Scottish Government and all industrial matters were dealt with by the UK Government. In the mill’s last two years, 4,400 people—mainly men—were laid off. Unemployment stood at 15% shortly after the closure and is still higher than average. The constituency still does not have the same number of highly paid and highly skilled jobs that it once had. The former MP for Motherwell and Wishaw, Frank Roy, did a lot of work to try to re-energise and rework the Ravenscraig site and led on a proposal to build a new town on it, but that has never come to pass because of recessionary pressures and local resistance.
Ravenscraig is slap bang in the middle of my constituency, between Motherwell and Wishaw town centres. The SNP Scottish Government made it a national priority in 2007, and lots of money has been poured in from various funds and resources. Ravenscraig Ltd was set up as a joint venture between Tata, Scottish Enterprise and Wilson Bowden when the plant closed. The site now has a new college, a new regional sports centre, less than 1,000 new homes—although more are being built—a pub, a hotel and a building research centre. There are proposals for more new homes and for a civic park. In 26 years, we have not come a terribly long way, given that it is a 1,400 acre site, most of which is covered by roads that do not necessarily lead anywhere yet.
I do not want to sound too pessimistic—as Mr Clarke said, we need to have hope—but when something as big as the Ravenscraig integrated steel mill closes, that is a hammer blow to a community. Not much help, if any, was given by the then Conservative Government; I hope that the Redcar site does not suffer the same fate. North Lanarkshire Council—of which I was recently a member, as Hugh Gaffney still is—is spending quite a lot of money on trying to make the site viable.
As the council’s new chief executive, Des Murray, says, it has always been recognised that there needs to be a redevelopment site at Ravenscraig, because it is of symbolic strategic significance, but we cannot live on symbols. The hon. Member for Redcar talked about Redcar as an iconic site, as was Ravenscraig, but people cannot live on such sites. People do not get jobs just because sites are iconic. There needs to be real and continuous development.
I do not want to paint too gloomy a picture, because there are improvements. The new Ravenscraig regional sports centre has hosted international and national events to great success, and the new houses there are lovely. The site building is now creeping forward, and in April there was another planning application put in for a more modified, and probably more likely to be built, new area in Ravenscraig, which now includes industrial and retail centres as well as two primary schools and development of the civic park. This is all good news, but I have to warn people in Redcar that it takes a long time and does not necessarily lead to the kind of jobs that have been lost.
The hon. Lady is giving us a good illustration of why we need big, fast decisions and investment now. I am sure she will agree that Redcar cannot wait 20 years for the Tees valley to secure the good, well-paid jobs that we need. We do not want service jobs; we want good, well-paid jobs like we have had in the past—that needs decisions now.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I do not have a solution; I can only lay out what has happened at the Ravenscraig site. People have been doing their best, but the recession in 2007 really bit into developments there. When things get delayed, they do not always come back again, which is a real worry for everyone.
I give credit to North Lanarkshire Council, as I always do when it does things right, for continuing to work on the site and for trying to get more investment into it, but I fear that, with Brexit apparently here, this is going to be an ever-growing challenge to local agencies and authorities. Motherwell and Wishaw were iconic not just for Ravenscraig; there were always steelworks in my constituency. The fact that the Scottish Government managed to save what is now Liberty Steel—the DL works—and, in a neighbouring constituency, Clydebridge, is testament to the work that they have done and are trying to do.
We need steel. When I was first elected to Parliament, the all-party parliamentary group on steel and metal related industries was the very first one that I joined. I fought hard to save the steel industry in my constituency, and that was achieved. Ravenscraig does not make steel—it simply rolls plate—but it is still there. That is thanks to the work of the Scottish Government, who were determined to save that site and as many jobs as possible—not only the workers, but, more importantly, the apprentices who were working on the site at the time. It will be interesting to hear whether the Minister can give the same commitment to the industry in England and Wales. There are no longer steelworks in Redcar, but we need these iconic industries at our backs if we are to move forward as a group of countries.
I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland for saying that everyone has to work together, which I think everyone realises. It is not a party political issue when something like this happens, but things do move ahead on party political lines. We have to be cognisant of that fact, and people have to keep putting pressure on the Government to make decisions and to treat the area favourably, even if it is not recognised as a really good area for their party.
I go back to 1992, when very little was done by the central Government to support Ravenscraig and the workers who lost their jobs. I moved into the area shortly afterwards, and all I could hear was tales of when the steelworks used to be open and how Motherwell and Wishaw were such thriving, wonderful places. It took a long time for the towns to recover. They still have not recovered totally, because the jobs that people do now are completely different. I think that is what is found in Redcar, too.
Regarding the hon. Lady’s experience, does she sense that there was a loss of skills and a loss of the workforce in any way? My big concern is that the longer this delay goes on, the more people will move away from Redcar to look for work elsewhere, and we will lose our highest-skilled and best workforce.
Alex Cunningham has already said that Scots people go all over the world looking for work. Yes, there were people who left and people who retrained. There was a very good deal in those days for the steelworkers who were made redundant; they were given, I think, two or three years’ training, which allowed many to go to college or university and completely retrain. In fact, my predecessor retrained and then became an MP, which was not necessarily what he retrained for, and he moved away—part-time, anyway—down here to work.
It really is important that all parties look at what happened after Ravenscraig shut, because that is comparable and it should be used as a template, in some regards to complement what is still going on there, but in others to look at this and say, “We mustn’t allow that to happen. We mustn’t allow things to stall and nothing to happen for long periods.”
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairpersonship, Mrs Moon. I congratulate my hon. Friend Anna Turley on securing this important debate. She is a champion not just for her constituents, but for steel communities across our country, and her passion for her local area shone through her speech.
It is clear that, out of crisis, there is an opportunity that must be seized. The news over three years ago that the Redcar blast furnace would be finally turned off was a terrible blow to all of us from steel communities. The closure of SSI marked the time when our country’s steel crisis first made headlines, as steel manufacturing ended in a region that had shaped the industry for 150 years. Despite emerging in the wake of the devastation of such huge job losses, the local master plan represents the best of regeneration. It unites the region around a plan that is ambitious for the communities and businesses of south Tees, and aims to create 20,000 jobs.
As the recent BBC series “The Mighty Redcar” highlighted so well, Redcar is a brilliant town. However, the investment needed to make the plan succeed is enormous. As my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar laid out, there are huge complexities in securing land and delivering plans. There is a simple truth here: in the last two years, the Government have not been shy of announcing funds and special schemes, or of sprinkling ministerial visits to the site, but the words are not yet matched by delivery of anything like the funds needed. As has been said, much of the funding announced is for the most basic security and remediation work. The Government have a legal duty to keep the site safe, so much of the vaunted £118 million in last year’s Budget is to be used to comply with their legal duty to fund the site and to protect the public from industrial hazards.
The money for specific investment schemes is welcome, but it is far too little. Much more finance is required to complete the most basic infrastructure and land assembly works, let alone create an essential and inspiring mixed-use site at Redcar. As my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar said, companies were seriously looking to invest, but now have cold feet because of the Government’s failure to promise the real funds needed for the site.
Public funding has the power to unlock private investment, but it needs to be at a level that gives confidence to investors that the Government stand behind the scheme. Will the Minister use the opportunity he has this morning to outline specifically what further funding the Government will allocate to ensure the efficient and effective delivery of the master plan? Will he also confirm that there will be a commitment to the additional powers suggested by my hon. Friends who have spoken so eloquently today, which could help bring the delays to an end? Will he give clarity on the very serious issues surrounding the airport, as raised by my hon. Friend Alex Cunningham?
Examples such as this of essential schemes being delayed by this Government’s failure to commit highlight why Labour’s infrastructure plans are so important. Success with schemes of this complexity and size is not won cheaply. We must invest to get the outcome that Redcar, the Tees valley and the whole country need. The next Labour Government will have communities such as Redcar at the heart of their programme, and I know that as our infrastructure plans are developed in detail, Teesside will not be forgotten.
I want to make something very clear. The closure of SSI was a consequence of a Government with no plan for steel—a Government who stood by as a great industry teetered on the brink and, in the case of Redcar, closed for the last time. This is an important point, because no doubt we are about to hear from the Minister—although I hesitate to put words in his mouth—about millions of pounds committed for Redcar and the site, special economic zones, and the work that the Government are doing. We should remember this: SSI Redcar collapsed because there was no policy to support British steelmaking properly, on energy costs, on taxation or on investment.
The tragedy is that we have seen very few steps forward in the last three years. Energy costs for British steelmakers are still 50% more than for European competitors, and calls for a fairer business rates system for large producers have been met with silence in Whitehall. Crucially, we still have no steel sector deal for our industry to bring together comprehensive action.
I am sorry; we must get on.
We have waited more than a year since steel companies set out what was needed, but we are yet to see action from this Government. Without that and wider industrial regeneration, there is little safety for other steel towns, and there is not the environment that will deliver success for south Tees.
This summer, Labour launched the Build it in Britain campaign, committing a Labour Government to using the capacity and expertise of Britain’s industries to fulfil far more of the country’s infrastructure needs. A Labour Government would have prevented the collapse of SSI Redcar, stepping in where this Tory Government were unwilling to save jobs and expertise to support the economy.
There will be a future for the south Tees site; I am sure of that. With great Labour women such as my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar and council leader Sue Jeffrey fighting for their area, I am confident there can be huge success.
The remarks were directed at my predecessor, Vera Baird, but my hon. Friend makes an important point, and I totally agree that the remarks were disrespectful; Vera Baird did her best in extremely difficult circumstances. I come back to the point that unlike the Conservative Government, the Labour Government saved the steelworks, which were reopened.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention.
To conclude, the Government must properly back this fantastic opportunity, not just for Redcar’s sake, but for our future economy. If they cannot deliver the ambitious plan that the South Tees Development Corporation master plan lays out, a Labour Government will.
It is customary in Westminster Hall debates to say what a privilege it is to appear in front of the Chair. In your case, Mrs Moon, that is absolutely true. I am greatly honoured to do so.
Just currying favour with the Chair—but it is actually genuinely true. One of the most interesting days I have had in this job was spent visiting Mrs Moon and her constituency.
I thank Anna Turley for securing the debate. These are very important topical points and I congratulate her on the consistency of her representations on this project. The whole area is very lucky to have the MPs that it does—the hon. Lady, my hon. Friend Mr Clarke and the other MPs who have spoken today. It is also lucky to have the Mayor, Ben Houchen.
There is a bit of an undertone of “who said what where”. That is not for me to go into, but I make a plea to all parties, including those not in the room, that these matters are much better dealt with on a consensual, cross-party basis. If anybody feels that I and my office can help in that, I am very pleased to offer that help.
I concur with the Minister’s comments and I reassure him that the reason for calling today’s debate is to try to move on to the substantive issues of the site. I welcome the positive, constructive tone that we have struck today, because I think that is the only way forward.
I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention.
I have visited the site, although not recently—I was 17 at the time. I was brought up in Leeds and went on a school trip to visit the Neddy—the National Economic Development Council—in Newcastle, the steel site and the Wilton ICI chemical works nearby. I have never forgotten the scale of it.
I whizzed past the site in my current job, when speaking at a steel conference just next to it in the constituency of the hon. Member for Redcar. A lot of Members of Parliament have trooped up there, as have a lot of Ministers. There has been talk of hollow words, but it is much better that there is a general awareness throughout the Government. The Mayor and other parties involved with the development corporation are regular visitors to the Treasury and other parts of Government, and so they should be. It is part of our democratic system, and we all co-ordinate together; I hope everyone realises that my office is very much part of that. I have certainly had nothing on my desk to do with this project that has been gratuitously turned down, ignored or not taken seriously.
I have been scrawling furiously during the debate to try to prepare to answer the points that have been made. I will try not to go over the history again, as it has been well covered by other contributors. Perhaps for the sake of Hansard it would be convenient if I did, but I think it has been said very well.
The South Tees Site Company is funded by a grant of £118 million, which was granted in the autumn Budget 2017 and includes £48.9 million for improving the site. The point was made—eloquently—that a lot of that money had to be spent, but it is still taxpayers’ money. It did have to be spent, and I hope that it is the first of very much more to come in the future.
There has been talk of different projects and implications that they have been turned down by the Government. My personal experience of doing this job is that I have spoken expensively—I mean extensively—to Liberty Steel. In its case, both those words might be true! I have spoken to it to get a project, which is still very much in outline. It has not been rejected. There has been nothing put in front of us.
It might have been the hon. Member for Redcar, or another speaker, who said that this project is going to Scotland. That is not the case. I am in regular talks with the company and I have been to its offices. I have met the chairman and other officials, several times, with our own experts, to try to get the project to a state where it can be looked at as a serious proposal. This is not a criticism, but it is not yet at that stage. I hope it will be. We meet regularly, and the company knows that the door is open.
As far as INEOS is concerned, its decision was taken for commercial reasons. As has been mentioned, I think it was more of a question of not wanting a brownfield site and a start from scratch, rather than anything to do with this site, the Government saying no or anything like that.
All in good time. I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a date now, but I will come to that shortly. I will make progress because I want to leave time for the hon. Member for Redcar to sum up.
The £14 million granted by the autumn Budget and the special economic area status for the site are both important. They came about because all those different Departments—including the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, and the Treasury—are working with South Tees Site Company, the development corporation and the combined authority. We have worked together on the proposals and will continue to do so. The 1,500 jobs quoted are a first step, but I know they are nothing compared to the number of jobs that were lost when SSI went into liquidation and struggled from crisis to crisis.
It is very easy to blame one Government and not the other or to say that the Government could have intervened by putting in a load of money to keep things going, but I have seen the consequences of that. I have seen places in the valleys in Wales where hundreds of millions—if not billions—of pounds were spent on keeping businesses open, and I saw a failed industrial policy in the north of England, where I was brought up. That does not mean that Government do not take part in industry—we are spending more money on research and development than ever before.
I really believe that the industrial strategy, in partnership with businesses, is the future. The reason that there is not a steel sector deal—as the shadow Minister, Gill Furniss mentioned—is that industry itself has not come up with its side of the proposals. I am working on this, meeting industry regularly, and am still hopeful, but that is work that must be done in partnership.
The Government responded immediately with support for the site when the closure took place, including a sum of £30 million that was ring-fenced for the statutory redundancy payments. The SSI taskforce, under the leadership of Amanda Skelton, took a leading role and deserves a lot of credit. The hon. Member for Redcar was a member of the taskforce and did a great job.
The clichés about people working together are predominantly true in this case; spats and disagreements come and go. I think it is fair to say that we cannot recreate what was there before—time has moved on. My right hon. Friend Mr Goodwill made the point about how steel has changed and certain commodity products cannot compete with much lower costs. Of the factors for the industry growing up there—iron ore, steel and water—only one remains. That does not mean that the site does not have a fantastic future—I really think it does. I am delighted that the hon. Member for Redcar quoted Lord Heseltine and former Chancellor George Osborne in different parts of her speech.
The Scottish National party spokesperson, the hon. Member for Motherwell, made a very—
I was abbreviating—my apologies to the half of the hon. Lady’s constituency that I did not mention. Marion Fellows made some good points about apprenticeships, and I am very pleased about the way that apprenticeships in steel are going. I was pleased that all the apprentices at Redcar were found alternative jobs and positions. The experiences of Ravenscraig and Consett were fed into the creation of the solution, with the development corporation and so on. That does not compensate for what happened, but it shows that lessons have been learned.
The master plan is excellent, and proposals for additional funding will be carefully considered. They have to meet public funding guidelines, which I know all hon. Members will accept. The Government’s current position is therefore to commit resources in a number of areas. I accept the shadow Minister’s view that some of that is just hot air and announcements, but that is the way that public sector financing works; there is a principle and then there has to be a business case. I make no apology for that—that is the way it has to work. Business cases are not there to be stopped; they are there to be taken on board.
I really am running short of time—that is my own fault for giving too many compliments to most of the other speakers, which I should not have done—so I will hurry up. The subject of the airport, which was raised very eloquently, is not one that I have really concentrated on. Maybe I should have, but I have not. May I suggest a meeting with the hon. Members who are interested in the airport issue, rather than just giving a vague answer today?
We very much believe in the concept of a local solution, and the Government are very open to specific suggestions from private companies or from the development corporation. I hope we see through all the smoke about individuals—who should be in this or that job, or who said this or that—and come to the collective solution that we all want.
The debate has given me the chance to canter over matters. We must remember that the site is the UK’s largest regeneration opportunity, and if the UK is to develop in terms of its industrial strategy, which we hope it will and fully intend it to do, that will be there. The site has received much publicity thanks to the efforts of hon. Members present, the Mayor and everybody else involved in the development corporation. We know what the challenges are in the special economic area in the Tees valley. Even people who did not watch the documentary on television—I was very disappointed about the lack of a starring role for the hon. Member for Redcar; had I been in charge of casting I would have altered that—will know that these things take a lot of time. Decontamination has to happen first, before a deal with the banks, which I am sure will come about—these are very complex matters. It is not as if the banks are a single entity; there are three of them, with very different views.
The Government are determined to see the site redeveloped in an exciting way in the end, so that it is a flagship for our future industrial strategy and an example for the next industrial revolution as it was for the first.
I appreciate the Minister’s response, which was thoughtful and considered, giving us a real sense of positivity. I am glad that he took the trip that he did when he was 17. Everyone who knows our area well knows that it is never forgotten. It is one of the most fantastic places in the country, and the sense of pride, opportunity and passion in our town and area will carry us through this situation and enable us to rebuild.
I thank all colleagues who participated in the debate. We have heard a fantastic range of views and experiences from the past, as well as important challenges and questions from this side of the Chamber. I also thank my colleagues on the Government Benches. As has been said many times, we will make a success of the site—bringing jobs, investment and opportunities for the people we represent—only if we work together constructively. I sought to secure the debate this week in particular because I was, frankly, disappointed at the nature of the Budget debate and the level to which it degenerated. I am pleased about the positive and constructive discussion that we have had today.
It is vital that MPs have the opportunity to represent their constituents and to ask these questions. We live in a democracy in which everyone in a public position is accountable for the decisions that they make. We all know that it will take time to regenerate the site, that the ownership issues are complex and that there are confidentiality issues at stake, but we have a fundamental duty to our constituents to raise these issues and to hold the Government to account. Anyone who knows me or my colleagues knows that we will be holding the Government’s feet to the fire every single day that we are in this job, to get the best for our constituents.
Today’s debate was held to make sure that the Government’s long-term commitment is there and that warm words and positivity are backed up by money. That will be the bottom line in all this. I am very proud of the work being done locally, and of the positive and constructive relationship that I have with Ministers. I am grateful that the Minister’s door is always open. We will continue to work together to champion businesses that seek to invest in our site and I am extremely positive about its future, which could unlock a new industrial renaissance in the Tees valley. The onus is on all of us to work together to drive that, and I thank everyone who has contributed to the debate to make that happen.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House
has considered the future of the former steelworks site in Redcar constituency.