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Tories are putting China ahead of UK steelworkers

The European Council has agreed to impose tougher sanctions on cheap Chinese imports, despite UK Government opposition.

161214 TB question to Greg Clark

Tom questions Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Greg Clark

The new measure will give the EU greater powers to increase tariffs on Chinese steel, which is being dumped, sometimes at below cost prices, in the European market, threatening domestic steel producers.

While the British steel industry welcomed the development the UK Government has consistently argued against increased tariffs, even supporting granting Market Economy Status to China which would likely reduce current tariffs on cheap Chinese imports.

Tom, Chair of All Party Parliamentary Group on Steel, yesterday asked the Business Secretary Greg Clark about the threat Chinese dumping posed the industry. In reply Mr Clark claimed the Government ‘have been active in making sure that we have the right trade defences against practices where countries dump steel unfairly in the UK market’.

Commenting on the news of the European Council’s agreement  said:

Today’s news shows regardless of the Government’s talk you can’t trust to Tories to save the UK steel industry.

Despite Greg Clark’s answer to my question yesterday, at the European level our Government has been opposing greater tariffs on the Chinese steel dumping threatening British producers.

It’s not just the steel industry that needs trade defence measures against Chinese dumping – the textile, ceramics and chemical industries also need the government to stand up for them.

Following Brexit the UK will need to develop its own trade defence measures and I don’t trust this Government, who continue bend the knee to China at every opportunity, to do what’s best for British manufacturing jobs.

The Government again seems to putting its relationship with the Chinese ahead of the interests of UK steel workers. We now face the bizarre situation of British workers welcoming an EU measure that their own Government opposed!

The Daily Mirror today reported Theresa May’s spokesman said the Prime Minister was ‘disappointed’ at the imposition on tougher tariffs.

View Tom’s question to Greg Clark

Government’s choice to increase private influence in railway decision-making threatens local services, says Tom

Tom has warned that the government’s decision on National Rail today might mean less busy services in Teesside face ‘neglect’.

Today Chris Grayling, the Transport Secretary, announced he would be restructuring the national rail infrastructure operator, Network Rail, in order to give more powers over infrastructure to local private train operator companies.

Tom said:

This decision will make taking the long term action needed for our railways more difficult.

Moving infrastructure decisions further from people accountable to the public and increasing the influence of local train operators has all but guaranteed short term thinking and a lack of investment.

This plan will kill off long term capital investment. Most train operators have less than a ten year lifespan, so won’t want to commit to big schemes, like electrification, the benefits of which will only emerge years later. The government is asking operators to take investment decisions which might only benefit a competitor!

Locally, the decisions made today will likely mean less busy lines, like the Northallerton to Teesport link or the Saltburn to Middlesbrough service, will be neglected in favour of money making lines like those connecting Leeds and Manchester. Once again Teesside is being allowed to slip down the agenda and the government letting it happen.

Philip Hammond’s first Autumn Statement ‘not good news for anyone’

In the Autumn Statement today the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, performed an about turn on the government’s economic strategy, loosening fiscal rules to allow the government to borrow more.

In what has been seen as a drastic change from George Osborne’s economic priorities Philip Hammond today confirmed the government will be borrowing more than ever before, increasing the national debt to nearly £2 trillion (£1,945,000,000,000) by 2020.

The Chancellor also altered his fiscal targets and rules. Mr Hammond’s predecessor promised to clear the national debt by 2015 and pushed that back to 2020, Mr Hammond today changed the deadline to the notable vague ‘as soon as possible’ after the year 2020.

While the Autumn Statement was trailed as a budget for those ‘just about managing’ it appears that the increases in the national living wage and changes in tax will be outweighed by freezes in wages and benefits and increases in costs of living due to inflation.

Mr Hammond also confirmed corporation tax would be cut to 17% – the lowest in the Western world, despite the fact business investment in the UK will be ‘permanently lower’ than previously anticipated.

Tom, said:

Many of my constituents who voted Conservative at the last election told me they did so because they believed the Tories had a ‘long term economic plan’. Today’s statement has completed blown the Tories’ ‘long term economic plan’ out of the water. The Chancellor hasn’t even tried to meet Osborne’s targets – he’s just removed them.

As inflation increases after the post-Brexit crash in the pound the cost of living will become higher for my constituents. The government’s feeble measures to support working families will be outweighed by changes in the economy, falling business investment and reduced in-work-support.

The public finances face a new crisis and working people will feel the hurt. Today’s forecast and statement don’t seem to be good news for anyone.

Tom highlights local funding challenges during Road Safety Week

Tom has backed a campaign which highlights steps drivers can take to reduce accidents on Britain’s roads. Tom also praised Redcar and Cleveland Council for their work on road safety in the face of strains on the local transport budget.

Road Safety Week is promoted by Brake, the road safety charity, who outline 6 steps drivers can take to make Britain’s road safer for everyone. These include taking regular eye tests, as 2,900 people are injured due to poor driver vision, and avoiding using the phone, because drivers talking on the phones are 4 times more likely to crash.

These factors as well as speeding, tiredness and drink driving contribute to the 5 deaths and 61 serious injuries on Britain’s roads every day.

Tom said:

I am proud to do my bit to reduce the shocking numbers of people who die and are injured on our roads every day by raising awareness of Road Safety Week. It’s up to individual drivers to take the steps Brake have identified to help save lives on our roads.

Redcar and Cleveland Council have worked hard to improve safety for drivers in my constituency. They’ve fought to solve the problems central government has caused through Tory budget cuts – credit should go to them for doing so.

Gary Rae, director of communications and campaigns for Brake, said:

Every MP has constituents directly affected by road crash road death and serious injury. Road Safety Week’s theme is action-orientated and many MPs are now supporting a motion to The House of Commons.

Everyone who drives has to step up and take responsibility. If every driver vowed to slow down, never drink alcohol or take drugs, never use their phones or other devices, always use seat belts and child restraints, drive when fit to do so, and minimise driving, then our roads would be safer places for everyone.

Tom today signed an Early Day Motion in support of the campaign.

Find out more about Road Safety Week:

Use secret Big Six profits to boost energy innovation

Tom has called on the government to use the hidden profits of energy firms to give a boost to innovation in the sector.

Yesterday it emerged that the ‘Big Six’ has been making profits, from households across the country, seven times higher than they previous claimed. An investigation by the Sun newspaper revealed that companies made as much as £272 profit from each family on standard variable tariffs each year.

Families can only avoid paying this premium by swapping policies regularly, meaning reliable customers are milked by the very companies they show loyalty to.

Tom said:

It’s outrageous that these huge energy companies have hid the extent of their profits made off the back of hard working families. It is right that customers can shop around to get the best deal but those that don’t shouldn’t be taken for a ride.

The government should recoup the profits that these companies have hidden and put it back into funding innovative projects in the energy sector – Carbon Capture and Storage, tidal energy projects and energy storage measures – that will save the environment and reduce cost of energy in the long run.

Greg Clark, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, said he would be summoning Energy UK representatives of the energy companies for a meeting on this matter.


Tom backs Usdaw’s campaign to protect shopworkers

Tom has joined with the members of the retail union Usdaw to call for an end to abuse in the workplace. As part of the Freedom From Fear Campaign, which seeks to prevent violence, threats and abuse directed at retail staff, Usdaw members are highlighting the problems faced by staff during Respect for Shopworkers Week, which runs from 14 to 20 November.

Tom Blenkinsop USDAW keep your cool

Tom said:

I am proud to back this campaign which raises awareness of the abuse and violence faced by shopworkers across the UK. It’s important we all show respect to retail workers, especially during the stressful and busy run-up to Christmas.

It is unacceptable that anyone should have to face abuse in their workplace. The stories I have heard from Usdaw representatives and shopworkers show how difficult abusive customers can make their jobs.

I will continue to campaign with Usdaw to provide shopworkers the support they need and deserve. We must give a clear message that abusing or assaulting workers who are serving the public is totally unacceptable.

John Hannett – Usdaw General Secretary said:

We are grateful to Tom for supporting our campaign to keep our members safe at work.

Often, in the course of their duties, shopworkers are expected to deal with tense and difficult situations. Unfortunately these can escalate to verbal abuse and assault. Over 300 shopworkers are assaulted every day and it is time to say enough is enough. Parliament has placed the legal obligation on shopworkers to enforce the law in relation to age restricted sales and Parliament must also ensure that the law also protects shopworkers who are doing their job. Politicians and members of the public must work together to ensure that shopworkers get the respect they deserve.

‘Tata can’t be allowed to break promises to steel workers and pensioners’ – Tom

Tom has reacted to reports in today’s Financial Times that Tata plans to close its pensions scheme next year.

The British Steel Pension Scheme’s (BSPS) deficit was seen as a significant barrier to the sale of Tata steel’s UK plants to new operators. The scheme’s deficit, earlier this year estimated at £700m, was recently re-estimated at a far lower £50m. Despite this apparent improvement in the scheme’s health, the Financial Times today reports Tata plan to close the scheme next year, just before the company is due to make a £60m recovery plan payment, promised to the BSPS’s trustees last year.

If the reports are accurate, the BSPS would cease to accept further contributions to the scheme, although it would continue to pay out to existing members. Unions, including Community, previously threatened to strike over a plan to close the final salary scheme in 2015.

Tom, who also chairs the All Party Parliamentary Steel Group, said:

I hope Tata will clarify their plans for the British Steel Pension Scheme. The uncertainty over the future of steelworkers’ pensions affects not only the 130,000 members of the scheme but the future of the steel industry in the UK.

Tata can’t be allowed to break promises to workers and pensioners, merely to cut their costs. I hope the Pensions’ Regulator and unions will be able to examine Tata’s plans to ensure they are acting like what they have always promised to be: a responsible employer.

The trustees of the scheme had previously outlined a plan to make the scheme function independently of Tata, on which the government consulted. The consultation process closed in June. The government is yet to outline its response to this consultation.

Teesside MPs lead steel debate in parliament

Teesside MPs Tom Blenkinsop and Anna Turley, yesterday led a debate on the future of the UK steel industry in parliament.

Tom Blenkinsop steel backbench debateAnna - Steel Debate

During the debate, which they secured, Tom and Anna raised a number of issues from the challenge of Chinese steel dumping to future of the former SSI site in Redcar.

The debate was well attended by members from a variety of different parties.

Tom, said:

I am glad members from across the house were given the opportunity to push the government again on this issue.

Just because steel has fallen down the news agenda doesn’t mean the industry has overcome the challenges it was facing only a few months ago. The government needs to act on Chinese steel dumping, access to European markets, energy costs and to support innovation in the sector.

Specifically, several MPs called for the creation of a Materials Catapult to boost research and development in the sector.

Chris McDonald, Chief Executive of the Materials Processing Institute, said:

The steel debate has highlighted the importance of continued innovation-support for the future of the UK steel industry, through the development of a Materials Catapult in the region, to keep UK manufactures on the front foot in responding to the international market.

The North East has a proud and prestigious history of steelmaking and has built extensive expertise in production and processes. The Materials Processing Institute continues to develop and share this expertise with international steelmakers, which would be bolstered by the creation of a Materials Catapult.

Anna’s speech focused on the inaction of the government during the SSI closure and the fact the site was now currently in limbo.

Anna, MP for Redcar, said:

I took the opportunity again today to raise the deadlock around the future of the former SSI site with the Minister. The site is stuck in faraway wrangles between the official receiver and faceless banks in South East Asia and there are no signs of progress. I have met with serious potential investors who are looking very closely at Teesside and are attracted by the key strengths we have but we need the site to be liberated. The businesses of Teesside are ready to rebuild, invest, regenerate and bring much needed jobs to our area but not being able to redevelop the steelworks site is a big stumbling block.

In response to the debate, Nick Hurd, the Minister of State for Climate Change and Industry, denied the government was not acting to solve the crisis which continues to embroil the steel industry and reiterated their commitment to securing the future of UK steel.

Health letter exposes government’s secret NHS cuts, says Tom

A letter from the Health Committee has accused the government of giving a ‘false impression’ over the funding provided the NHS.

161031 TB in chamber

The letter, written by Dr Sarah Wollaston, a Conservative MP and former GP, states that the government’s claim that it will provide an extra £10bn for the NHS by 2020-21 is ‘false’.

Simon Stevens, the Head of NHS England, said the NHS required at least £8bn of investment before the last election. However, in the letter sent today from the Health Select Committee the actual figure supplied is estimated at £4.5bn.

This news comes only a day after it emerged half of NHS authorities plan to cut the number of hospital beds and one third plan to close Accident & Emergency departments.

Tom, said:

This explains why when the Tories have been claiming they are properly funding the NHS, the story on the ground is so different. The letter today shows the NHS is receiving less than half of what this government has been claiming. Even members of Jeremy Hunt’s own party say his figures are bogus.

Around the country there are stories of services being cut or closed. In my constituency Hemlington Medical Centre is closing, services in Skelton have closed and in Park End they have closed and the buildings are being sold off for commercial development! This all comes before the impact of the ‘efficiency savings’ planned in the Sustainability and Transformation Plans we are yet to see.

These are cuts the government has tried to keep secret – today they have been exposed.

I hope the government will listen to Dr Wollaston and the committee’s concerns, but to be honest I won’t be holding my breath.”

Tom today questioned Jeremy Hunt and claimed he had been ‘found out’. In response Mr Hunt stood by his figures.

“Good for Teesside” – local steel MPs back Heathrow as final decision approaches

Tom and Anna Turley have called on the government to back Heathrow expansion as the best option for Teesside.

The government is expected to make the final decision on Heathrow expansion this week, over a year after the option was recommended by the independent airport commission.

The MPs pointed to the opportunities Heathrow offers to Teesside and the UK steel industry. A third runway for Heathrow opens the possibility of direct flights from Durham Tees Valley Airport to the capital.

Anna, MP for Redcar, said:

Heathrow expansion doesn’t just mean Teesside could be better linked to London but to the wider world. It mean Teesside’s economy can be better connected to businesses, from the south of England to as far away as China.

If the government are serious about attracting investment to our area they need to back Heathrow expansion. This is the final call for a decision and the government need to make it!

The Heathrow project has also attracted support for its pledge to use UK steel. Tom and Anna, who respectively, are Chair and Secretary of the All Party Parliamentary Steel Group say this could provide a lifeline for the UK steel industry. Figures released last month estimate the third runway project would require approximately 370,000 tonnes of steel and sustain 700 jobs related to the industry over 5 years.

Tom said:

UK steel needs support at the moment. While the government has decided to use French steel to build new trident submarines it has dragged its feet on the decision to back a project which has already committed to use British steel.

This should be an easy choice for the government: Heathrow has the backing of an independent report, the UK steel industry and a variety of businesses. Theresa May can’t allow a handful of London MPs to veto a project which would help the north and our industry.

Expansion would be good for UK businesses and good for Teesside.

In an article for the Guardian this week Andy McDonald, MP for Middlesbrough and Shadow Transport Secretary, said it would take ‘overwhelming evidence’ for the government not to back to decision of the independent commission