Monday, October 19, 2015

News: Rotherham summit reiterates UK steel crisis

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As reports point to thousands of potential job losses at Tata Steel sites in Scunthorpe and Scotland, Rotherham MP Sarah Champion is urging the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills Sajid Javid to save 720 steel jobs in Rotherham.

On Friday Rotherham hosted a top-level summit to discuss the challenges currently facing the global steel industry attended by steel companies, MPs, unions and trade bodies.

Working groups chaired by ministers will now be set up, gathering evidence on how public procurement can support UK steel manufacturers; what lessons can be learned from other countries in the EU and beyond; and "energy and environmental costs, business rates, regulation and what action industry can take to drive up their competitiveness including skills, training and maximising their assets."

Indian-owned steelmaker, Tata Steel has for a long time been warning that continuing cheap imports risk undermining Europe's steel industry and that uncompetitive energy costs and the strength of sterling are hurting its UK operations.

In July, the company announced a restructure of its speciality and bar business to focus on high-value markets such as aerospace - a move that has put 720 jobs are at risk, many in Rotherham. Tata Steel said that the bar business in Rotherham has been "underperforming in the face of commodity-grade steel being imported to the UK due to the strong pound and high electricity costs which are more than double those of key European competitors."

An inquiry on what comes out of the steel summit is expected to take place in Parliament later this month.

Business Secretary Sajid Javid, who chaired the summit at the AMP Technology Centre in Rotherham, said: "There is no straightforward solution to the complex global challenges facing the steel industry. But today was an important opportunity to bring the key players together and we now have a framework of action. The government is committed to working closely with industry on both short-term and long-term issues and to doing everything we can to support both industry and the workers. A strong economy underpins everything and we will continue to focus on securing the UK's economic recovery across the UK."

Roy Rickhuss, general secretary of the steelworkers' union, Community, added: "Today's summit was a much needed opportunity for the government to hear directly from steel employers and the representatives of the workforce. Everyone impressed upon the ministers the crisis that the UK steel industry now faces and they should be under no illusion about what a united industry expects. The Secretary of State must now grasp the urgency of this situation. His willingness to listen was welcome, now he needs to show the political will to act.

"While the government has agreed to develop a number of working groups, timescales are unclear and they may only deliver in the medium to long-term. As we have said, government must also take practical action in the short-term to deliver urgent support to the industry particularly on dumping and uncompetitive energy costs. Today's summit will only prove worthwhile if that support arrives soon."

With the recent announcement on the closure of the coke ovens and blast furnace at (SSI) Redcar steel mill, some are expecting Tata Steel to announce this week a further restructure affecting over 1,000 steelworkers at sites in Scunthorpe and Scotland.

Sarah Champion MP called on the Secretary of State to save 720 steel jobs under threat in Rotherham at sites such as Aldwarke. The Rotherham MP said: "If the UK steel industry is to have a chance of competing on the international market, the Government must take urgent action.

"I have asked the Secretary of State to bring for the compensation package for high energy industries to bring the UK in-line with schemes offered across Europe.

"We have seen heavy job losses in the steel sector in recent months, so it is essential that the Government and industry leaders work together to make the UK industry competitive again. We are not asking for handouts, but a level playing field."

Images: John Healey MP / Twitter

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