Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Business
  2. Economics
31 March 2016updated 09 Sep 2021 1:18pm

To save British steel, we need cool heads and strong action from government

Thousands of steelworkers across the United Kingdom are relying on us to collectively raise our game and the world is watching – we cannot fail.

By John Park

The announcement that Tata Steel are to put all of their British steel operations up for sale is the biggest challenge for British industry in a generation and it needs a coherent response from industry, government and trade unions.

This is a proud industry, sitting at the centre of so many communities across the United Kingdom. Every Tata Steel job loss would lead to an additional four jobs being at risk in the wider economy and every plant closed undermines the country’s ability to make and manufacture. Tata’s announcement isn’t just about steel jobs and steel communities, it’s about the ability of the UK to perform in a global economy.

That’s why MPs must hold ministers to account and ensure they act decisively. We must keep all options open – support from government is vital and it appeared to be accepted yesterday they may need to intervene to protect Tata’s strategic industrial assets. The PM was less clear on that approach this morning – but they need to learn from their failure to intervene after SSI’s liquidation last year in Redcar and take a more proactive approach with this situation. A recall of parliament is also a proportionate response given the impact this could have on thousands of workers, dozens of communities and the wider British economy.

There also needs to be political pressure to ensure that Tata makes good its commitment of being a responsible seller. It is crucial that Tata takes reasonable time to work with potential buyers, engage constructively with the trade unions and provides access to government officials so they can support initiatives to secure the future of the industry. 

Yes, there are many challenges facing the industry at this moment – particularly the flooding of the global market with cheap Chinese steel – but Tata has invested during their tenure in a number of UK sites over a sustained period. This means the onsite plant could be very attractive to potential investors. The workforce has played their part too. This is an industry that has worked hard to be globally competitive over many years. Unions don’t talk enough about working constructively with employers but that is what has happened in the steel industry in recent years. Yes, there have been ups and downs – and the occasional fallout – but the workers have engaged positively in steps to improve efficiency – always seeking to build a sustainable industry with decent jobs at its heart.

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Your guide to the best writing across politics, ideas, books and culture - both in the New Statesman and from elsewhere - sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

We’ll hear a lot things said over the next days, weeks and months. Some will try to use the situation in the steel industry to further their own political objectives – particularly in regards to the EU referendum. That should be challenged and shown for what it is – political opportunism at its very worst.

Content from our partners
A better future starts at home
How to create an inclusive workplace and embrace neurodiversity
Universal Credit falls short of covering the bare essentials. That needs to change

This is time for cool heads in government, it’s time for a socially responsible approach from Tata and it’s time for responsible trade union leadership as we campaign to secure a future for British steel.

Thousands of steelworkers across the United Kingdom are relying on us to collectively raise our game and the world is watching – we cannot fail.

John Park is assistant general secretary​ at Community, the steelworkers’ union.