Posted: 29 March, 2016 at 10:26 am

Government must act now to save South Yorkshire steel

John responds to an announcement from steel firm Tata.

Speaking to Radio Sheffield, he called on the Business Secretary, Sajid Javid, who is currently in Australia, and the Prime Minister to “step up” or face losing the steel industry.

John also spoke out on behalf of the steelworkers and their families who he said had endured years of uncertainty.

He said: “I want to see the Business Secretary back from Australia to get a grip on the Government’s response and I want to see the Prime Minister saying to the Community union, which has led the charge in this: ‘yes, I will meet you, yes, I will discuss the future of steelmaking in this country,’ because it is too important for us to lose.”

“Of course they should have sent a minister to the meeting in Mumbai. The Business Secretary is 6,000 miles away in Australia, but I’m afraid this is characteristic of this Government. They dragged their feet over putting in place a scheme to help with high energy costs and they blocked early moves to stop Chinese dumping in UK and European markets. Then two weeks ago in the Budget they failed to change the business rates system to reflect the investment needed in steelmaking and manufacturing, which the industry, the unions and MPs from all parties have been calling for.

“They have held back from doing what has been needed over the last few years and now they have really got to step up otherwise we will lose the steelmaking industry in this country and they will be to blame.”

Families

Turning to the human cost of Tata’s decision, Mr Healey continued: “This is a body blow to the town. The families, the steelworkers are reeling from this. I called a meeting with steelworkers and their families in Rotherham last week to meet with the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn. He wanted to know what personal problems people were dealing with as they face the uncertainty over whether they have got a job or not; whether they have got a steel plant or not.

“They have had the stuffing knocked out of them over the last few years. It’s been one blow after another and this shock overnight coming from the board in India is just one more.”

Future plans

Setting out what needed to be done to save jobs, Mr Healey said: “This is a huge shock overnight. We thought the board in India were looking at the future of Port Talbot but this seems to suggest they have thrown in the towel on UK steelmaking and the number one thing we need now is a clear statement from the company about their plans and a firm commitment that they are going to continue operations in the UK until they get the sales sorted out.

“They gave a really technical statement overnight, which was heavily loaded. It’s not very clear. They said they are going to ‘explore all options for restructuring, including the potential divestment of Tata steel UK, in whole or in parts,’ and we need to know what it really means for South Yorkshire, what it means for Rotherham, what it means for Stocksbridge.

“It looks like they are trying to get rid of the UK operation, but we need to know the detail. Does it mean everything and what are they going to do in the meantime? We need them to continue operations in the meantime so we can avoid a situation like Teeside.

“We have in South Yorkshire with speciality steels some of the best steelmaking, the best quality and the highest performing, anywhere in the world. So there has got to be a future for steelmaking in South Yorkshire and we cannot sit by and allow this to be the end of steelmaking in the UK. You cannot have an advanced economy without a steelmaking base to support your manufacturing base.

“We need a clear statement from the company about what they mean and what they are going to do.

“From the Government we need to know that they are considering all options, including being ready to back a buyout if management and workers want to do that, including taking temporary ownership if that is required to see these plants safeguarded until they can be sold on to buyers who are prepared to invest and stick with British steelmaking for the long-term.”