With the survival of the Port Talbot steelworks hanging in the balance, there are justified demands that “something must be done” to safeguard what remains of Britain’s steel industry. Members of parliament from both sides of the House of Commons have joined forces with trade unionists and community organisations, and a growing chorus from the media, to press for “action”. The Government has been reluctant to intervene, on essentially ideological grounds (being committed to “laissez-faire” free-market principles) but is being drawn in despite this reluctance. Political realities dictate that “something” must indeed be done, though Ministers are still unsure exactly what!

BMFQ – the Campaign to Keep Manufacturing in Britain – has some suggestions.

  1. The Government must recognise that steel is a strategically important industry and its protection is a clear-cut question of National Interest. To risk allowing our steel industry to shrink any further than it already has will have far-reaching social, economic and security implications for the United Kingdom. Successive UK governments – Conservative, Coalition and Labour – have betrayed the British people by failing to defend, nurture and support Britain’s vital steel industry. When you are in a hole, it does no good to keep digging! David Cameron and his Ministers should accept that the non-interventionist approach has failed and the time has come to invest in British steel. The Government should also keep open the option of nationalisation. State ownership should not be anathema. National Interest trumps all other considerations.
  2. The UK needs a National Industrial Strategy with a “SWOT” analysis of British industry to identify its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, to enable swift and effective action to plug any gaps and to help prioritise investment and support alongside private sector investment. Steel is not Britain’s only vulnerable industry, and South Wales is not our only vulnerable region. A National Industrial Strategy would help to ensure we have balanced UK-wide economic investment. At present we have areas of Britain (primarily around London and the South East of England) that are economically overheated while other regions have high and growing unemployment; this imbalance is not currently being taken seriously. Ministers should recognise that they have a responsibility to ensure a rebalancing of the UK economy.
  3. We need a fair playing field in international trade. The major reason for the decline of British steel is the apparently unstoppable tidal wave of Chinese imports. This is unfair competition. Not only does China massively subsidise its steel industry (and most of its manufacturing industries) but its regime actively lobbies the European Union to prevent Europe putting up effective tariff barriers against Chinese imports. Moreover, Chinese industry has none of the “climate change” restrictions imposed on its British and European counterparts. Our politicians have been too busy kow-towing to China to either know or care about the survival of the British steel industry. It is now ALMOST too late. But if the E.U. can be persuaded to impose the type of tariffs against China that America quite rightly imposes (in defence of its National Interest), and to ditch the ludicrous “climate change” costs that currently hamper British steel manufacturing, then we can start to rebuild our industry. Of course, it would be easier if the United Kingdom could set its own tariffs and decide its own trade arrangements – but to do that requires Brexit!
  4. The Government should commit itself to restoring to Britain a positive balance of trade (with Europe and the Rest of the World). At present we are running a large and growing trade deficit – i.e. importing far more than we are exporting. In former times this would have been regarded as a major weakness in our economy, but nowadays politicians are apparently unconcerned and show no shame that we have become reliant on foreign imports. In fact the UK’s trade deficit has now grown so high in recent years that there are major fears that either our interest rates will have to rise massively or sterling will fall through the floor. The only way to get the UK’s Current Account deficit down is to increase exports and reduce imports. Saving Britain’s steel industry would be one step to achieving this.
  5. It is simply not sufficient for Government Ministers to “encourage” their own departments and other public sector bodies to source British-made products. The whole of the UK public sector – including the Ministry of Defence and the National Health Service – should have a strictly enforced “Buy British” policy. British taxpayers who fund Her Majesty’s Government should be assured that their tax money is being spent here in Britain, not on foreign imports. Many other countries, including those in the EU, have a policy of national preference in their public sector procurement – so why doesn’t Britain?
  6. Politicians must stop hiding behind “austerity” and claiming that we cannot afford to help our industries. The British Government had no hesitation in propping up the banks when they floundered – even though their plight was entirely their own fault. Banking was considered a strategically important industry. Our steel industry is strategically important, and unlike the banks its problems are NOT its own fault but are down to the E.U and an unfair global trade regime. We owe it to the thousands of British steel workers and their families in South Wales to ensure that we revive, nurture and protect our highly deserving NATIONAL steel industry just as we rallied to the undeserving INTERNATIONAL banks.
  7. We need to recognise the link between economic and social policies. The mission to “save our steel” is not just about protecting an industry; it is about looking after our people. It is estimated that up to 40,000 jobs depend on the operation of the Port Talbot steel plant, and the social consequences of the plant’s closure or “downsizing” would be catastrophic for the area. Britain still bears the scars of the de-industrialisation that was the result of the deliberate switchover from a manufacturing-led economy to a service-led one. Coal mining has gone. So has a large part of our previously vast ship-building industry. Let’s not allow the death of another such important British industry.

We have one last chance to Save Our Steel. Together we can do it!