UK Steel Industry

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:43 pm on 9th July 2019.

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Photo of Simon Clarke Simon Clarke Conservative, Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland 4:43 pm, 9th July 2019

I will endeavour to stick to that limit; thankfully, I echo many of the comments made by Nic Dakin. I congratulate him on securing this important debate; the cross-party unity in this room is mirrored in the weekly meetings we have had in Doncaster since the crisis first began. It is important that we maintain that, and show united confidence in the future of the industry and the passion that we all have to retain those skills in our local economies. Huge praise is due to both the Minister and the Secretary of State, who understand the significance, on a social and economic level, of making sure that our communities continue to have a strong future.

I represent Skinningrove, known locally as the iron valley, where steel has been produced since 1874. The heritage runs deep, but this is very much about the future rather than the past. The huge capabilities of the British Steel special profiles division, producing bulb flats, forklift profiles, cutting-edge profiles for bulldozers and track shoes, are all capabilities that we must not lose from our economy. The fact that it is co-located with Caterpillar on the same site is a huge tribute to Anglo-American co-operation, which goes far beyond the intemperate comments of the President in recent years—this is the positive face of a union that has delivered huge benefits to our area.

The conduct of Greybull is well known, and I do not propose to elaborate on it today. It is a source of immense frustration that it has let the workforce down and that the company has been allowed to reach this sad situation. We all know that it needs to be replaced by a long-term, viable investor who is committed to the lasting success that the workforce deserve, who can deliver a profitable and successful industry. I emphasise that everybody—Government, management and the unions—stand united in pursuit of a positive outcome to the talks. Only thus can we secure a sale.

Looking beyond that, as we heard from the hon. Gentleman, we need to do more on issues such as energy costs. The average electricity price for UK steel producers this year is £65 per MWh. That compares with £43 in Germany and £31 in France. We need to take steps to allow our industry to compete on a level playing field. If the Government commit to do that, the industry has said that it will reinvest the estimated £55 million a year that it would save back into production facilities.

We need to look at boosting research and development. I place on record my profound admiration for the work of the excellent Material Processing Institute, which Anna Turley knows all about. It submitted a bid, alongside Innovate UK, to unlock funding for issues such as the steel industry transition, the digitisation of the sector and the circular economy in rare metals. We should look to pursue all those things. I hope the Minister will touch on some of those issues in his remarks, because they confer lasting benefits to British steel.

Finally, we need to promote and celebrate our steel industry, as we touched on in Doncaster yesterday. The steel charter is immensely valuable, and it is crucial that we increase the percentage of British steel in Government contracts from its current 43%. The private sector needs to play its role, too, to make sure that it explores all available opportunities. If those longer-term opportunities can be seized, there is nothing standing in the way of British steel having a long, secure and prosperous future. We all want to see that, and I hope over the coming weeks the Government will do everything they can to make sure we deliver that.