It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin) and hear a detailed update on the work of the IPU. As we head back to our constituencies this evening, we will reflect no doubt on an extremely challenging period for our country and our constituencies. I put on record my thanks and admiration for the key workers and community groups in my constituency that have pulled together in an incredibly impressive way to get us through these difficult times.
I want to focus today on an area where I feel the Government have failed and are letting our country down, and that is specifically around the manufacturing sector. We know that a recovery for our manufacturing sector will be crucial for the post-pandemic economy that we wish to build. I will focus on the backbone of our manufacturing sector, which is the steel industry.
There are 4,000 highly skilled and relatively well-paid jobs at the Port Talbot steelworks in my Aberavon constituency, but those people have been badly let down. For a decade, successive Conservative Governments seem to see steelmaking as metal bashing. They seem to see it as a sunset industry. It is not. It is at the cutting edge of so many of the important manufacturing innovations for both our past and our future. Steel is also central to the homes we live in, the cars we drive and the offices we work in. It is crucial to Britain’s defence, automotive and infrastructure sectors. Steel is also crucial for the green agenda. Wind turbines are based on steel, as are many other green technologies, yet we have seen very little in terms of creating a supportive policy environment for the steel industry.
We need fairer industrial energy prices. Why is it that our energy prices are 80% higher than those of our competitors in France and 60% higher than in Germany? We need an integrated Government procurement strategy, so that British steel is actually at the heart of infrastructure projects. We need to tackle extortionate big business rates that punish investment in new plant and machinery. We need the Government to be much, much quicker to provide urgent cash flow support to an industry that is in crisis because of the coronavirus. We need bespoke loan support. We need it urgently for the industry. Where is it and why has it taken so long? Every day that goes by takes the steel industry deeper into this crisis.
I also want to say a word about why this is so important to our sovereign capability and our national security. Covid-19 has shown the essential nature of having national supply chains that we can rely on. The UK has 229 product lines that are strategically dependent on China, of which 57 relate to our critical national infrastructure. We can no longer be too reliant on economies such as China’s and on regimes where we have seen their disregard for the international rule of law.
We also need to recognise that steel is a driver of jobs and employment. We talk about “build, build, build” but we must also say, “jobs, jobs, jobs.” We know that nationwide, the UK steel industry employs 32,000 people and contributes £3.2 billion to mitigating our balance of trade deficit. It contributes £5.5 billion to the economy directly and through supply chains. Let us think about the cost of doing nothing. If, God forbid, the steel industry, tragically, were to be allowed to fall over by the Government, imagine the cost of all the relatively well-paid steelworkers who would be put on to the social security system. Look at the capital expenditure cost of closing down our steelworks and those iconic blast furnaces. It would cost the taxpayer billions. It is the definition of a false economy, and that is why the Government must act and act now.
That is why I am supporting the amazing new union-led campaign, “Britain, We Need Our Steel”. I congratulate Community union, the GMB and Unite on the campaign and I urge Members across the House to sign up and support it. The unions must be properly consulted. It was very disappointing to read in the Sunday newspapers that apparently discussions are happening about transitioning away from a blast furnace-based model of steelmaking. It is simply not acceptable to be floating those kinds of plans, having them leaked out into the press without proper consultation with a trade union—by the way, a trade union movement that has been the model of constructive engagement and modern, 21st century trade union working. That needs to stop. We need proper consultation. We need proper Government support and we need to see it now.
We need a modern manufacturing renaissance in this country. We will not have a healthy post-pandemic economy unless we have a strong and healthy post-pandemic steel industry. This is a great and proud country. We are strong, modern, diverse and industrial. Our future relies on the steel we make here in the UK: from rail to electric cars, from wind turbines to hospital beds, from pots and pans to vans, to baked bean cans. The message today has to be clear: we need this urgently and we need it now. Britain, we need our steel.