MP WRITES: The Government needs to do more for steel industry

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It is the anniversary of my grandfather’s death today.

James Henry Wright, or Jimmy, my dad’s dad, died on January 22, 1971.

I never knew him – he died the year before I was born at the terribly young age of 58 – but I am tremendously proud of him.

Jimmy Wright was a steelworker, like my other grandad, Alan Harland.

They both worked at the British Steel plant in Hartlepool, both knew each other well and drank together in the Travellers’ Arms.

The Wrights and the Harlands lived opposite each other in Armadale Grove in Rossmere and went on holiday together to Osmotherly.

Indeed, Armadale Grove is where my mam and dad met.

Without the close proximity of the steelworks, steelworkers and homes, I might not be here.

I mention Jimmy Wright and Alan Harland not just because it is the anniversary of Jimmy’s death, but because of the central importance the steel industry has played in the history of my family and the history and economy of Hartlepool and Britain.

Last week the House of Commons held a debate on the future of the UK steel industry.

Some people might think that steel is something in which this country used to be strong but is no longer important.

I couldn’t disagree more. I think that manufacturing matters if we are to see a rebalanced economy with good jobs, improving productivity and rising living standards.

Within manufacturing, steel matters as an important foundation industry, providing the materials that will go into other important industrial sectors such as automotives, construction and energy.

Tata’s pipe mills in Hartlepool produce world class products that are used throughout the rest of the world in oil and gas pipelines.

This country can decide to import its steel and therefore become vulnerable to supply and cost variations from overseas.

Or we can recognise that steel matters to our ongoing competitiveness as a modern manufacturing nation and as provider of important, well-paid and highly-skilled jobs, and prioritise it as an important element of the economy.

A number of things came out of the debate. First and foremost was the problem of energy costs. This Government has put in place the Carbon Price Floor, which makes heavy industrial users of energy such as chemicals and steel pay far more for their electricity.

It is meant to improve energy efficiency, but there seems little either green or environmentally friendly in closing down our steel industry because the costs are too high, only to import steel from half way round the world from countries and steel mills which may be emitting far more pollution and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than their British counterparts.

The Government is putting in place measures to combat the high cost of energy, but these are half-hearted and slow, not coming into force until April 2016.

I think the Government needs to prioritise this far more and put in place help for steel manufacturers as soon as possible.

Another matter debated was procurement and the use of local steel. In the debate I mentioned how the Scottish Government recently commissioned a £790 million contract for steel to go into the Forth Road Bridge Scheme.

Despite having a Tata plant down the road, not a single scrap of steel used in that contract was from the UK, all coming from Europe and China.

Closer to home, people will see the windfarms just off our coast close to Redcar. Despite having a pipe mill in Hartlepool which could have provided the steel to use in the columns, it has been estimated that less than 10 per cent of steel used in that project was sourced from the UK.

I think government could be working harder to ensure that contracts of this sort use more local content as a means, not of protectionism, but of boosting the local steel industry.

Thinking of the steel industry is not harking back to the past and paying tributes to the likes of steelworkers like both my granddads. It is about recognising its importance in the modern age and prioritising measures that help it grow and thrive.

I hope everybody in this part of the world would recognise its importance and ensure we all stand up for steel.