MEP Jude Kirton-Darling says the UK government must act to save jobs on Teeside
As George Osborne congratulates himself on his grand plans for future infrastructure and the launch of the “Northern Powerhouse”, the closure of the SSI steelworks exposes where his priorities truly lie.
Brought to its knees by a tumultuous restructuring, a flooding of the global steel market by cheap Chinese imports, high energy and raw materials prices, and a strong pound, Redcar desperately needed the backing of the UK government.
Unions, campaign groups and politicians have been warning for several months that the plant might not survive the winter: that our worst fears came true this week is a crushing blow. I think the unions (Community, GMB and Unite) should be commended for a valiant fight, on behalf of their members and our community, to save the plant as they did in 2009 when Tata sold the site to SSI.
As the future of Redcar hung in the balance the UK government watched the impending tragedy unfold with quiet and helpless reserve, claiming that European Union state aid rules were preventing it from taking action. However examples from several of our European neighbours’ governments, including Germany, Italy and France, show there are well established precedents of governments intervening in order to rescue key industries from certain collapse.
At best, placing the blame on EU regulation is a lazy excuse for our government’s inertia; at worst, it demonstrates a dismissiveness that borders on contempt for UK industry and its workers.
The North East will now lose one of the last remaining bastions of its proud industrial past, responsible for up to seven per cent of the region’s exports as a whole, as well as a key opportunity to lead the way in global efforts to reduce carbon admissions. SSI’s Teesside site was part of a hugely ambitious Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) project, which could have drastically reduced energy costs, created jobs and attracted key investment into the region.
Most devastating of all is the fact that Redcar’s closure will come at the cost of 2,100 skilled jobs. This in a region already suffering from some the UK’s highest levels of unemployment and youth unemployment.
The sad fact is that the Conservative government remains wedded to a free market ideology that precludes state intervention, leaving struggling industry and workers to fend for themselves. Margaret Thatcher began this process in earnest thirty years ago: now unbound by their Liberal Democrat colleagues, it seems David Cameron and his cabinet wish to see her legacy brought to completion.
But while the Tories may have been prepared to sit idly by and watch SSI sink, my Labour Party colleagues and I refuse to give up on the workforce or our community. This Wednesday in the European Parliament I called for the UK government to apply urgently for the EU Globalisation Adjustment Fund EGAF to support steelworkers at SSI and across the UK. This is a mechanism which has already been implemented by the Dutch government in 2011 to support over 1,000 workers made redundant in the printing sector: the same must be done now in order to avoid a bleak future for our industrial workers at home.
As Redcar closes its doors for the final time this month, it is crucial that industry and stakeholders come together to find a sustainable, viable future for this vital sector: I hope that today’s steel summit in Rotherham will see the beginnings of a blueprint for action. UK steelworkers deserve better.
- Jude Kirton-Darling is a Labour Member of the European Parliament for the North East of England and is a member of the EU trade committee.
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