Today’s visit by the Prime Minister is welcome, but there is still a very long way to go before we can claim to have secured a sustainable future for the British steel industry.
I had a constructive telephone conversation with the Prime Minister this morning, during which we agreed that our shared aim is to ensure that the sales process is conducted in a responsible, thorough and robust manner, based on Tata Steel's promise that it will act as a responsible seller.
I reiterated the view that the Save Our Steel campaign has articulated repeatedly, which is that the integrated nature of the Tata Steel UK Strip Products business must be retained, regardless of ownership. This means that the Port Talbot hub, including its two mighty blast furnaces, must continue to be intrinsically linked to the downstream plants across the UK, from Llanwern, to Trostre, Shotton, Corby and Hartlepool.
In short, I made it clear to the Prime Minister that it is incumbent upon the government and Tata Steel to ensure that the Strip Products UK business is sold as an integrated unit, and that it continues to function as such. Any disruption of the deep synergies that currently exist between the hub and spokes of the Strip Products UK operation would ultimately, and inevitably, undermine the viability of the business.
Labour MP’s have raised the need for action on steel 217 times since the general election, and if the government had listened to us earlier there is no doubt that this crisis could have been averted. Nonetheless, I was very pleased to see that last week the Prime Minister and Sajid Javid made late but welcome conversions to understanding the need for government intervention, through their announcement that the state is willing to take a 25% stake in the Strip Products UK business. This was a huge victory for the Save Our Steel campaign, and a dramatic u-turn on the part of the government, but we are certainly not out of the woods yet.
I trust that the Prime Minister will be impressed by the awesome steel-making that takes place in Port Talbot, and by the passion, commitment and professionalism of the workforce, who make the best steel that money can buy, and who have once again broken all production records. And I hope that his visit will strengthen his resolve to Save Our Steel.