Thursday, October 29, 2015

News: Impact of losing Rotherham steel "incalculable"

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Rotherham MP Sarah Champion continues to fight for the future of the steel industry, using a parliamentary debate to highlight that "Rotherham steel shows the best of British industry."

Earlier this month, 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.

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.

The company recently confirmed proposals affecting 1,200 jobs, mainly in Scunthorpe and Scotland. It follows the announcement in July of 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.

Over 2,000 people are employed by the company in South Yorkshire where sites like Stocksbridge in Sheffield and Aldwarke in Rotherham, focus on exceptional high-value products and sectors. Rotherham is also the location for the manufacture of speciality steel and for the Proving Factory - a £22m government-backed manufacturing initiative working on low-carbon vehicle technologies.

A cost saving and restructure programme saw the company, then known as Corus, announce in 2009 that 1,100 jobs would be lost in Rotherham. Over 100 jobs were under threat of redundancy in a 2012 restructure which included plans to reduce its production and shift levels in Rotherham. Tata Steel has said that it will relocate all its UK-based research and development within two years, including moving away from the Swinden Technology Centre (STC) in Rotherham.

Speaking in a Commons a debate on the Government's support for the steel industry, Sarah Champion MP said: "I have been an MP for only three years, but it is depressingly familiar to stand in this Chamber following the announcement of another steel plant closure, with thousands more families facing an uncertain future and the heart of yet another steel-producing community being ripped out.

"Rotherham steel shows the best of British industry. It is world leading, innovative and dynamic. Steel is vital to my constituency and we are facing 720 imminent job losses. Our local economy is hugely reliant on steel. If this Government allow the industry to continue to decline, not only those who are employed in steel will feel the impact: local businesses, large and small, will be hit hard. Apprentices will lose their careers and young people will lose their hope of a future in steel. Ministers need to know that Rotherham is still feeling the effects of the loss of coal mining in the 1980s. The town was built on coal and steel and the loss of coal hurt us severely and deeply. The impact of the loss of steel would be incalculable.

"It is deeply ironic that the Advanced Manufacturing Park where the steel summit was held is built on the site of the battle of Orgreave, which vividly demonstrates our ability, hard work, durability and will to succeed despite what the Government throw at us. To succeed, we must be given the tools. Many commentators ... have compared the lack of support for steel to the decision to bail out the banks in the wake of the global financial crisis. Although I accept the intention, the comparison is flawed. Steel does not need bailing out. It simply needs to be allowed to compete on a level playing field.

"Our steel industry is world leading, but it is hamstrung by a Government who appear unconcerned by its present and unwilling to support its future. Parliamentary colleagues and I have repeatedly called for the Government to act to address the high energy costs that leave British steel unable to compete with European neighbours, but what we receive, time and again, are warm words."

The Rotherham MP reiterated the "asks" of the Government laid out by steel unions which include: action on business rates; a compensation scheme for high-energy users; a commitment to favouring British steel in procurement; and work with the EU on anti-dumping measures to protect British steel from cheap subsidised imports.

Following the steel summit in Rotherham, working groups have been set up to look at the key issues and a parliamentary inquiry this week heard from steel industry representatives and MPs following the Tata steel redundancies. The government has also confirmed to the steel industry that it will be able to take advantage of special flexibilities to comply with new EU rules on emissions.

Business Secretary Sajid Javid was in Brussels this week to lobby other member states to convince his EU counterparts that severe pressures on the steel sector across Europe needs urgent action.

At the same time, he has raised UK concerns over unfair international trading with the EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström.

Images: Sarah Champion MP

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