I spoke in this week’s Westminster Hall debate on the future of the UK steel industry; highlighting the enormous potential of Llanwern, Cogent Orb and Liberty Steel in Newport East and calling on the Government to ensure that the UK maintains its steelmaking capacity.
Here’s my contribution in full:
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) for securing yet another debate about steel, for chairing the all-party parliamentary group on steel and metal related industries, and for being such a thoughtful and passionate advocate for our steel industry, and particularly his steel community, in difficult times. Steel workers in my constituency will be feeling for the steel workers in his constituency as we wait to hear about British Steel.
I pay tribute to steel workers and unions in my area, who have such pride in their industry and have made such sacrifices over recent years in this cyclical business. The communities of east Newport and over to Caldicot have been built on that pride. Most people have family or friends who have worked in the industry, but the current generation of steel workers live with the constant threat that their jobs are uncertain. They look towards Bridgend and what happened to Ford workers; they are understandably concerned and worried about problems in the automotive sector. That is not just because of the bonds of working in that industry, although that bond is real—Tata Steel’s Zodiac plant at Llanwern and the auto-finishing line depends on securing work from the automotive sector. We need the Government to urgently do all they can to ensure that our steel and automotive industries are open for business.
It is often said in such debates, but it is worth repeating that steel is a foundation industry and a national asset. For our manufacturing industry and our economy to thrive we need our own steelmaking capacity. We must not neglect this foundation industry and end up importing our steel. My hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe reminded us in a recent debate, and again today, that the strongest economies in the world—the USA, China and Japan—have the strongest steel industries. We currently come in at number 30, and we must not fall further down the table.
I want to talk about Tata Steel’s Cogent Orb works in my constituency, which has been making steel since 1898. The 350 steel workers at Orb make electrical steel that has the potential to be used as the high-quality grain-oriented steel required to build electric vehicle motors. The automotive industry has been calling on the Government to support the production of a high volume of batteries required to support electric vehicle production in Britain and avoid the risk of importing from abroad. Demand electric vehicles is only going to grow and we have a fantastic opportunity with that company to get in on the cutting edge of that new industry and to develop a supply chain for it.
But these are smaller companies and will need the Government to help to bring the supply chain together. The Orb works is the only plant in the UK capable of making the steels and is therefore a strategically important business that can support the Government’s industrial strategy in relation to electrification. We must take advantage of that new industry. I visited Orb recently and have invited the Secretary of State for Wales. I would be very keen for the Minister from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy also to visit when he is in Newport, which I think might be fairly soon. That plant must be able to take advantage of that opportunity, but we need the Government’s help for that.
As well as Llanwern and Orb, Liberty Steel is based in my constituency. Liberty bought the old Alphasteel plant in 2015, and Sanjeev Gupta has announced that it has now become one of the largest steel producers in Europe, with a global footprint employing 30,000 workers. It appreciates that steel is a cyclical business and needs investment to get it through the cycles in order to make money. It is working on a model of an exciting bright future for steel, but it too asks the Government to deliver on the industrial strategy with a delivery taskforce to support and drive the investment that we need, particularly in the green steel area.
On behalf of the steel industry and workers in my area, I will repeat the asks so often made in these debates. We have waited too long for a sector deal for steel. We need more and faster action on energy prices. We need more action on procurement. We also need more action on dumping and on what will happen with the trade defence instruments in Europe. I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in this debate. On behalf of all those who work in Llanwern and at Liberty, I hope that we can expect action and not more warm words from the Minister.