For those that understand our steel industry, it is hard to read articles like Oliver Shah’s “Too big to fail? No – Gupta’s steel empire may be too complex to save”, which suggests that government should sit on its hands and leave the fate of Liberty Steel to the market. Community couldn’t disagree more, as this view fails to appreciate the strategic importance of the steel industry to our economy and our country’s future.
The fact is no developed economy can thrive without steel, and access to a secure supply is both a public good and a matter of economic and national security. The leading economies in the world – America, China, Japan, Germany and India – have all built their economic success on the foundation of a strong steel industry supporting the supply chain of an advanced manufacturing sector. If Global Britain is to compete on the world stage over the years ahead, then we must do likewise.
The pandemic has highlighted the dangers of relying on fragile international supply chains, and our steel industry provides security of supply to crucial sectors of our economy including automotive, aerospace, transport, and defence. To argue that government should allow our steel industry to fail is to be content with the UK becoming dependent on other countries, some of which play by very different rules, to supply us with an indispensable material.
It should be, in short, unthinkable that our country could be without a steel industry as we charter a new course in the world. An independent country without the potential to make the steels for her own infrastructure, or to build her own ships, really is not independent at all. At a time of increasing protectionism and nation-first sentiment, it would be madness not to retain our sovereign steelmaking capacities.
A strong and sustainable steel industry will also be vital for delivering the UK’s climate objectives. Given that transporting a tonne of steel from China costs fifty times more CO2 than a tonne sourced domestically, we need to be talking about growing our steel industry not shrinking it. Liberty Steel is the UK’s biggest low-carbon producer of steel and therefore must be integral to the government’s decarbonisation strategy.
There should be no doubt however that Liberty Steel, and indeed all our steel companies, face huge challenges. Our government must decide whether they want a steel industry in this country long-term. If the answer is yes, then we need government to support us to compete in the global marketplace by taking action in areas like uncompetitive energy costs and public procurement policy.
For the reasons outlined above, and the thousands of good jobs supported across the UK, our government must do whatever it takes to safeguard the future for the Liberty Steel businesses. Britain needs its steel, and our strategic industry must never be taken for granted.