UK’s steel industry in its death throes

“Today is incredibly difficult for Wales,” says the Welsh Conservative leader in the Senedd Andrew RT Davies. It isn’t every day you witness a Tory being truthful.

In case you missed the story, which is ongoing, Tata Steel has confirmed it is cutting 2,800 jobs across the UK, with the bulk expected to be at its Port Talbot site in South Wales. The jobs are set to be cut by 2027, with a large proportion projected to have gone by September this year.

The Tata Group, India’s largest conglomerate, operates steelworks throughout the UK. It currently employs around 8000 workers, with around 4000 based at Port Talbot, its largest base.

Here are some key figures to mull over to understand how significant the steel industry is. Around 39,000 people are directly employed in the industry, with 50,000 further jobs supported in the UK supply chain. The industry contributes £2.9bn to the UK economy, and £4bn directly contributes to the UK’s trade balance. As one of the biggest steelworks sites in the UK, Port Talbot can claim to be a pivotal contributor to those numbers.

So, why the job cuts? Unsurprisingly, it comes down to the mad push for greener energy. The plan is to replace the blast furnaces – which produce new steel from iron ore – with a modern electric arc furnace, which will produce usable steel from scrap metal. Tata claims it will help the industry to meet decarbonisation targets but will require a smaller workforce.

On top of that, the industry has suffered in recent years as demand for steel fell significantly during the first coronavirus lockdown in early 2020. Construction and manufacturing sectors stalled, leaving some companies facing liquidity issues—a completely unnecessary lockdown.

In response to steel industry stakeholders consistently calling for further government support, the government committed to supporting and securing a future for UK steel, which it describes as a “vital” industry. These are hollow words, of course. As it turns out, the Tories have now said they will support the £1.25bn plan with up to £500m of public money. In other words, their idea of securing a future is to facilitate mass redundancies.

The Community, GMB, and Unite unions held talks with Tata executives on 18th January. A plan by the GMB and Community argued that one blast furnace should be kept open for a transitional period, alongside a new electric arc furnace, to safeguard jobs and preserve the UK’s ability to make new steel. It seems Tata has been reluctant to do this because of the costs involved in keeping the existing furnaces and support operations going, so we expect this deal to gain no traction.

This is distressing news for the people of Port Talbot and nearby areas. The town’s history of steelmaking goes back more than a century. The plant is a significant contributor to the wider Welsh economy, too – Tata says that in 2020-21, it contributed 3% of the total Welsh economic output. We need to look no further than recent history to see the disastrous effects of mass layoffs and undermining of industries, not just for those losing their jobs but also for the local communities. With no other significant industries nearby to absorb the imminent unemployment spike, this will likely lead to poverty and decline.

It’s not just a matter of economics, either. As the UK’s ability to produce its steel diminishes, the country is more dependent on imported steel from countries whose governments won’t always have Britain’s best interests at heart. Our steel industry could barely be called self-sufficient as it is, already relying on imports to meet domestic demand. Most of those imports come from the EU and, unsurprisingly, China. We rest our case.

It’s quite disgraceful that a major economy such as the UK cannot produce its own steel. It would be quite within reason to argue that this constitutes a national security risk. After all, globalism aims to destabilise sovereign nations and replace their self-sufficiency with dependency.

The Homeland Party aims to bring back our economic independence. We believe it is a betrayal of our people to undermine our industries, security and the livelihood of thousands, if not tens of thousands, so needlessly. Subsequent governments, both Conservative and Labour, have been selling our country out for far too long now, and we need to put a stop to it.

We take conservation seriously. However, we would only adopt sensible and practical green policies which won’t wreak havoc with our vital industries.

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