With the UK steel industry in crisis UK politicians need to think outside the box if they are going to react quickly enough to stop terminal decline. But sadly, they seem to be more interested in spinning stories to show they are doing something, rather than on achieving results.
As someone who was the biggest employer in the processed scrap metal industry in Sheffield for many years, I’ve traded physical materials all over the world; hundreds of thousands of tonnes to places such as China and India. I have been dealing with the companies who are now making headline news as well as working within the prohibitive EU a legislation which dominates all industry and trade in the UK.
It’s pretty clear to me – and to anyone with a passing knowledge of EU emissions laws and procurement rules – that the Conservative government is going to spectacularly fail to rescue our beleaguered steel industry. The concept that Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party would do any better is frankly laughable: they are bound by the same ropes holding back Business Secretary Sajid Javid. The only difference is the mainstream media haven’t scratched beneath the surface of Corbyn’s spin.
In short, the Chinese have been protecting their steel industry for years while we, via our EU trade representatives, have granted them market economy status. It strikes me as pretty naive to grant a country governed by a Communist party the same trade rules as countries which have strict rules on competition and state involvement in all industries.
Recently, the TATA steel plants in Scotland were sold to LibertyGroup, with the aim of relying fundamentally on scrap metal recycled to make their finished product.
Metals recycling is a multi-billion pound UK industry, employing over 8000 people and making a net contribution to the UK’s balance of trade.
Over a billion pounds of scrap metal was sent to China in 2011, which has been importing it from around the world at an unprecedented rate over the last few years reaching 2.56 metric tonnes in 2014, only 0.6 metric tonnes lower than the whole EU-28. Yet almost no scrap metal from China comes to the UK.
Scrap steel recycling is the most efficient and environmentally responsible method of providing raw material for steelmaking and this is part of the proposed plan by Liberty Group for the Potential Port Talbot buy out.
By placing a prohibitive tariff on finished product yet keeping raw material import flow uninhibited China is directly protecting its steel production industry but as we know, our government blocked plans for measures to be taken against China at an EU level, rubbishing the claims that they are ‘doing everything they can’.
The UK steel industry is being unfairly and potentially fatally stifled; China can buy raw material, have the production subsidised by the government and export to the UK with comparatively low tariffs.
But we cannot even give preferential treatment to British steel when it comes to tendering for public sector projects, paid for by the British tax payer, thanks to the Lisbon Treaty.
The single European market does not allow for us to differentiate between a UK company and. German company, for example, making the latest announcement calling on these awarding contracts to lean towards UK steel, illegal under EU rules.
The fact is that if the EU’s role in the collapse of British steel were debated openly and honesty, it would be a huge push for Brexit which is exactly what the Prime Minister and many of his acolytes would do anything to avoid.
If they can avoid having this debate before June 23rd they will be very well pleased, for the threat of a Brexit is bigger than the loss of 15000 jobs in steel to them. But for the sake of steel and jobs we need to be shouting this from the roof tops.
Steve Winstone is the UKIP candidate for Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough.