UK Steel Industry

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:29 pm on 9th July 2019.

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Photo of Nicholas Dakin Nicholas Dakin Opposition Whip (Commons) 4:29 pm, 9th July 2019

It is about talking to the EU about the necessity of having UK-specific quotas. That could be part of a deal; it is a deal that can be done, and one that the new Prime Minister needs to put high on his list of priorities. That needs to happen, because steel is a strategic industry that is important not only to us in steel communities, but to the UK if it is serious about its place in the world. Ensuring that we get those quotas is therefore the first ask.

Secondly, a level playing field is still needed on electricity prices for UK steel. It is not good enough for the Government to say that they have given some of the “higher than our competitors” energy taxes back; we need some innovative approaches to level the energy-costs playing field. For example, we could put measures in place to maximise the level of relief on renewables levies, which is allowable under state aid rules, we could bring in German or French-style network cost reductions, or we could provide an exemption from the capacity market levy, as the Polish Government are doing. Those things happen in our competitor countries and, given the political will, they could happen here.

Thirdly, something needs to be done to tackle the much larger level of business taxes on steel in the UK compared with our competitors. It is bonkers that the site in Scunthorpe has higher business rates than the equivalent site, which is twice the size, at IJmuiden in the Netherlands. That is not a level playing field under anyone’s rules.

Fourthly, more could be done to maximise public procurement of steel, as my hon. Friend Nick Thomas-Symonds indicated. Progress on Government policy note 11/16 on procuring steel in major projects remains patchy. I was pleased to see the previous Minister with responsibility for the steel industry, Richard Harrington, begin trying to make Departments accountable, but we have a long way to go to get real, effective traction, and we are three years on since the Government put that policy guideline in place. In answer to my written questions asking Departments if they have signed up to the steel charter, all confirmed that the current Minister is on the case and has written to them—but, in the main, the answers were hesitant and generic. The honourable exceptions were the Ministry of Justice and the Department for Work and Pensions, both of which confirmed that they will sign the charter. The next step for them will be implementation.