In Prime Minister’s Questions today I pressed Prime Minister Boris Johnson on the critical need for liquidity support for the UK steel industry which has been hit hard by the ongoing pandemic, and highlighted the potential for Newport’s steelmakers to play a key role in the national recovery from coronavirus.
Speaking via video link in Prime Minister’s Questions today, I said “A strong UK steel industry is essential for the UK’s economy recovery. Plants like Tata’s Llanwern and the Orb steel works – the only electrical steel plant in the UK can play a key part in that recovery, but 3 months into this crisis and steel companies are still waiting for government liquidity support which is critical. Will the Prime Minister commit to address this now?”
In response, Boris Johnson said that the government takes the situation facing the UK steel industry ‘very very seriously’, and that ministers would ‘do everything they can’ to maintain UK steel production.
My question followed evidence given to the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee earlier this month by UK Steel Director General Gareth Stace, who was critical of the lack of government support given to the UK steel industry during the crisis in comparison to French and German counterparts.
This is an incredibly challenging time for the steel sector, which has seen a huge drop-off in orders during the pandemic. The UK government has been slow to recognise this: French and German steel producers received vital liquidity support within ten days of lockdown being enforced, while UK steel companies are still waiting for this three months on. I’m glad that the Prime Minister acknowledged the severity of the situation in response to my question today, but it’s high time that this was backed up with substantive action.
As I mentioned in my question, steel can and should play a vital role in the economic recovery from the pandemic. That will require the government ensuring procurement of UK steel for major construction and infrastructure projects like HS2 and an auto scrappage scheme. As well as immediate intervention on liquidity, we need a longer term industrial strategy that has UK steel at its heart. Before the crisis, the industry contributed £2.8 billion to UK GDP and supported a further £3.6 billion through the supply chain. The importance of the sector – particularly for Newport East and South Wales as a whole – can’t be understated. We neglect our manufacturing base at our peril.