Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Business
  2. Economics
19 January 2016updated 02 Sep 2021 1:52pm

What the government can do for Tata Steel

The loss of jobs will hit Wales hard - but the government can do more.

By nia griffith

Yesterday’s announcement that over 1000 jobs are to be cut from steel mills in Wales and England is devastating for the communities affected.

The vast majority will come from the Tata plant in Port Talbot, a major presence in the South Wales economy and a site which has employed some families for generations.

Job losses on this scale are always devastating, with each and every one a tragedy for the employee and their family, not to mention the knock – on effect on jobs in the local community, but it is a double tragedy when we know that so much more could have been done so much more quickly by the UK government to avoid today’s tragic news.

The industry has been very clear: it does not want hand-outs or any half-baked proposals for nationalisation. It wants a level playing field in order to survive in a highly competitive global environment.

Back in 2010, the Chancellor hit the industry with the punishingly high carbon tax, a tax unique to the UK, which is not paid by any of our competitors, inside or outside the EU. In spite of calls from the industry, trade unions and Labour MPs, and even promises back in 2011 from the Chancellor himself of help for the energy intensive industries, he only confirmed this help a month ago, and it is now looking very much like too little too late.  

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A weekly dig into the New Statesman’s archive of over 100 years of stellar and influential journalism, sent each Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

The Conservative government has been wilfully slow to tackle the Chinese dumping of steel which is crippling the UK sector. The government has blocked EU reforms which would make it easier to keep Chinese steel out, and the government all but confirmed today that it is backing market economy status for China – a move to remove trade tariffs that will further intensify the pressure on our steel sector. It seems that George Osborne is far more interested in selling off British industries to China than challenging them on their uncompetitive practices as Jeremy Corbyn and Angela Eagle did during President Xi’s recent state visit.

Content from our partners
How automation can help telecoms companies unlock their growth potential
The pandemic has had a scarring effect on loneliness, but we can do better
Feel confident gifting tech to your children this Christmas

At a time of low demand in the private sector, the British government should bring forward, not cancel or postpone, infrastructure projects, and make sure that we use British steel in them; that would help both the steel and construction industries, and keep up our skills base. The British government should sign up, as the Welsh government has done, to the Charter for sustainable UK steel, and ensure that British steel is used in publicly funded projects.

We will continue to need steel, and, with our highly skilled workforce and Tata’s recent investment in the new blast furnace in Port Talbot, there is every reason why that steel should be made here, but, to ensure that happens, we need urgent action from the UK Government to enable the UK steel industry to compete on a level playing field and secure a future for the UK steel industry.